Using Mindfulness to Improve Athletic Abilities

Girl balancing ball on tennis racket

Harper, an 11 year old tennis player, was the focus of her family’s decision to try establishing a mindfulness practice. The family sat through lessons together, asked questions, and learned about mindful listening and breathing, body scans, and mindful eating and walking. They also talked about ways to use the mindfulness practice during tennis matches, situations where it could be applied, and how it could be used for the parents when they were at work, and Harper during school and other social situations.

As her mom eventually said about Harper’s use of mindfulness on the tennis court,

“[Mindfulness] allowed Harper to learn to be more focused, calm and mentally mature on the court. Athletes aren’t allowed any verbal contact during a match so she has to keep herself calm, during mistakes, for example, and be able to bring herself back to positive.”

Harper isn’t alone. She has learned what numerous professional teams of many sports have realized: mindfulness can help improve athletic performance for those who are open to the possibilities.

The New York Knicks have been participating in mindfulness sessions since Phil Jackson took over the team in 2014. George Mumford, who led the team’s mindfulness sessions until Jackson started leading the sessions himself, said,

 “[Mindfulness allows you] to step back and observe your experience in an uncritical way, you can actually understand how your mind works, how your body works, how the universe works, how basketball works.’’

Mindfulness doesn’t help you run faster, jump higher, or throw farther. But it can help you notice how your body feels as you travel through the range of emotions during the activity’s progression. Those mindfulness strategies can help you so you opt to thoughtfully respond to the different situations, rather than simply react to a situation with a panicked feeling. And that response, allowing you to use the skills you’ve learned during practice sessions with your coach or teammates, has the potential to be much more beneficial as you stay calmer, think more clearly, and put what you’ve learned to use.

While not all teams choose to use the word “mindfuness” as the name of their practice, it is easy to realize that there is a common thread through these experiences. After all, when it’s a tense moment in a game or competition, the opponent’s fans are screaming, yelling, waving, taunting, and anything else they can think of to distract the opposite team members; those players need to stay focused on the task at hand. Ignore the noise, and keep your mind on completing the task at hand. Forget about those guys waving and trying to distract me; my mind will stay in the game, and I will do what my body and mind have been trained to do.

Performing at a level of excellence isn’t easy, but people like Harper and teams like the N.Y. Knicks, have taken the extra step to give themselves the greatest chance for success. In addition to the physical components, they’ve addressed the mental and emotional factors. They have left no stone unturned in their quest for success.

I hope you win!

Dr W

 

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