Mind & Body

Mindfulness: a tool to enhance athletes’ performance

A sport psychology intervention to promote mental fitness and emotional regulation

Although athletes should stay focused and avoid unnecessary stress, it is well acknowledged that a lot of stress and pressure are imposed on them to execute a good game. These unpleasant emotions are associated with negative effects on their performance and wellbeing. Furthermore, accumulated stress from training and competition usually lead to chronic emotional and physical fatigue, which could consequently contribute to poor performance and high levels of burnout.

Mindfulness based intervention is a technique used in clinical psychology. It aids individuals to stay focused intentionally on the current moment without being judgmental on one’s thoughts and perceptions. It beneficially impacts psychological adjustment through helping individuals gaining clarity on their internal feelings and thoughts, while not getting attached to them. It raises acceptance and tolerance to one’s emotions compassionately, without further elaboration on them.

Mindfulness training is introduced and integrated in sports as a significant sport psychological strategy to optimize athletes’ performance and assist them in coping with demanding sports conditions.

It promotes mental and psychological functioning through having a present centered attention, with calmness and independent of external circumstances during the game.

It supports athletes to get detached from distractions, expectations and physical and psychosocial demands.

It also teaches them how to keep a sustainable attention on task at hand and avoid getting overrun by their own thoughts and feelings. Regularly practicing mindfulness amplifies athletes’ ability to blank out potential external and internal distractions and stressors, while maintaining emotional stability and focus.

In fact, mindful based intervention helps in decreasing anxiety and negative outcome expectations, buffering stress and letting go of negative feelings and dysfunctional thinking.

It trains athletes to attain an attitude of openness to experience without having performance inhibitors such as unrealistic expectations, fear of injury, competition anxiety, anger, negative feelings, fear of failure, perceived pressure or other personal factors and internal failure attributers that could influence their performance.

Nevertheless, it makes them accept performance discrepancy and increase their self-concordance through identifying conflicts between their personal values and goals.

mindfulness

In high-stress athletic world, athletes are extremely affected by their performance. Mindfulness liberate them from self-judgement to present an idealized public image. This consequently make them less emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed and/or fatigued. Therefore, achieving better outcomes during their leagues.

Beside teaching athletes how to contain emotions as they are, another aspect of mindfulness practice is that it has been proved that when players are focused on the moment and task at hand; they are less likely to get injured. This happens as a result of being attentive to their function execution effectively.

Coaches as well are vulnerable to emotional and behavioral difficulties. Thus, they can highly benefit from mindfulness practice. Coaches experience high levels of stress as result of team navigation and performance demands. They put tactics and make decisions under the pressure of being contained and confident.

There are plenty of ways mindful exercises can be practiced. One of them is the “mindful breathing” where athletes focus on their own breath to cultivate mindfulness. This technique teaches athletes how to notice their mind wandering and gently bring back their attention to their breath.

Another exercise is the “body scan mindful exercise”; which can be integrated at the end of their regular training sessions at the cool down phase. This exercise increases their physical sensation on the body and helps them identify areas of tension.

More examples for mindful practice techniques are mindful pre-game stretch and sport specific mindfulness exercises.

Reference:

  • Jekauc, D., Kittler, C. & Schlagheck, M. (2017). Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention for athletes. Psychology, 8,1-13.
  • Ivarsson, A., Johnson, U., Andersen, M., Fallby, J. & Altemyr, M. (2015). It pays to pay attention: A mindfulness-based program for injury prevention with soccer players. Journal of applied sport psychology.
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