As athletes, we train
harder than most people will ever realize. We train the BODY, we train
the CRAFT of our sport, but for too often athletes get caught slipping
up when it comes to training the MIND. When times get tough, our actions
and posture often give away someone who is mentally prepared, and
someone who isn’t. A person can only truly train 3 things, yet it’s only
been within the past 3-10 years that elite athletes have begun to take
mental preparation seriously. However, over the next 3-10 years,
you will see an emphasis on self-awareness, mental preparation, meditation and visualization in sports that you have never seen before, guaranteed! Growing up as an elite hockey player, I remember looking back and laughing when one of my best coaches told me that I need to begin a mental preparation routine before games. If I would have listened, I probably would be able to boast better numbers, but I didn’t. Later on another coach offered me a CD to listen to, morning and night. He told me it would help me stay calm and look forward with better positivity for the games to come. Little did I know, I had begun meditating, practicing positive affirmations and visualizing key scenarios before I even knew what it all meant. Shortly after, my rude outbursts and mental breakdowns slowed…then later came to a complete halt. My sport had suddenly become fun again, and the worry of the scouts in the stands, people’s opinions or any doubt I may have had, all slowly faded.
It doesn’t matter what sport you play, or at what level you play it at, ANY athlete can benefit from taking 20 minutes to meditate each and every day, and 20 minutes a few hours pre-game to visualize and reinforce positive self-talk. Although sport psychology has been around for some time, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the many brain benefits and the depth of self-awareness an athlete can gather from daily meditation. Let’s talk about some!
1. Focus without stress and anxiety: Meditation has been shown to increase states of focus within the brain. Many forms of meditation are focus on your breathing, and when you begin to notice yourself becoming distracted, you re-focus back onto your breathing. Every athlete, no matter what sport they are playing, could work on bettering their focus. Especially as we grow up in an age of distractions, bettering your focus will better your life in general. Not only does it aid in focus, but meditation has been shown in studies to reduce rumination. Often rumination is when you replay negative events on a loop in your head. For a goaltender it may be letting in a
bad goal, for a basketball player it may be missing a pivotal free throw. Either way, meditation allows us to refocus and re-shift back into a balanced mind state.
2. Reduce fear: The part of your brain responsible for eliciting fear is called the amygdala. In 2012, a key research study from Gaelle Desbordes helped to show us that compared to a controlled group who didn’t practice meditation, mindful-attention training on the emotional stimuli from the amygdala helps to calm that center of the brain, EVEN when you aren’t meditating! Fear controls people, and often is the reason why athletes top themselves short of greatness.
3. SLEEP: The best athletes in the world are sleeping 8-12 hours per day. Yes, Lebron James and Roger Federer can afford too while the rest of us mortals work or study! However, meditation may even help you get to sleep, stay asleep and even increase the quality of your sleep. If you can generate the habit of shutting your phone off 20 minutes before you hit the hay instead of mindlessly scrolling through cat memes until 2 in the morning, this can add a whole new element of energy and clarity to your sport and/or life.
4. Self-Awareness: One of the difficult things of being an athlete is that you need the utmost confidence in yourself in order to stay mentally strong. You’ll see this often with fighters, albeit it can come across as arrogance or cockiness, it’s the edge they need in order to step in the ring with another person trying to physically hurt them. However knowing that we have flaws that we need to work on is not only one of the most difficult things to admit to ourselves (especially for the male ego), but essential for growth as an athlete and a person. Coaches and teammates help to show us the areas in our game that need work, but meditation and actively working on our own self-awareness of who we are as a person will allow us to see the areas of ourselves deep down. The better you know yourself, what you love and what makes you love waking up each morning, the better you can truly immerse your true personality into your craft. Dressing rooms can be difficult places. People begin to act differently, and try to portray an image of a person they may not actually be. Knowing YOU and being confident and happy just being you is the most powerful skill one can carry.
How are you incorporating mindfulness into your game day routine? Look up some affirmations for your sport, visualization techniques, and meditation techniques for athletes…you may be pleasantly surprised!