We get it. Most athletes aren’t really into the whole “mindfulness” thing.
But guess what: there’s a ton of research behind the benefits of practicing mindfulness and its link to increased athletic performance, readiness for competition and overall success.
As an added bonus, practicing mindfulness also helps teens to reduce their overall stress, get better sleep and improve mental clarity and concentration.
Have we got your attention? Let’s get started.
Mindfulness Reflection Activity
Gather the team together and in large or small groups have athletes answer one, some or all of the questions below. Once they have answered the question(s) engage in a brief discussion around their answers.
- What are three reasons you like being part of a team sport?
- What is the best part about competing?
- What emotions do you feel when you play well?
- How would you describe what feeling confident is like?
- How does being an athlete make you a better person?
- What is the one thing you do after a good performance?
- What do you do to calm your butterflies while you compete?
- What do you do to help you get focused before a game or meet?
- Do you use visual cues of your environment to help you focus? What are they?
- What do you give up to play sports?
- What do you do to stay calm under pressure?
- Do you have a mantra? What is it?
- Do you think attitude is a factor in winning? Why?
- How does being an athlete inspire you to do good?
- How does being an athlete make you a better student?
Mental Training Practices for Athletes
Have athletes tackle each of these training practices – either all at one time or periodically throughout the season. Check in with the team regularly to get a pulse on how they are doing with their practices.
Write down your goals
Do you have a goal for your mental health? A goal for your mindfulness practice? For your athletic performance?
Go “old school” and write down your mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, academic and athletic goals! Putting pen to paper helps get these thoughts out of your head and, research shows, that you’re more likely to follow through with these goals when you’ve written them down.
Practice positive self-talk
As a team, or as an individual, commit to using instructional or positive self-talk rather than critical talk.
|Examples of Critical Talk||Examples of Instructional/Positive Talk|
|I can’t make that shot.||I’ve been training. I can make the shot.|
|I won’t be able to run that fast.||I am strong and fast.|
|I’m not motivated.||What song would really pump me up right now?|
|I’m not good enough to make the team.||I am enough and I am talented.|
|I’ll just let everyone down.||I am more than this goal. I will do the best I can.|
Paying attention to your internal dialogue, as well as the stories you tell yourself, your friends and your family, is important because your internal dialogue can reflect and shape your mental state. It’s OK to notice the thoughts or feelings when they come up, but it’s not OK to take them with you to the next race or shot.
Mentally practice like you physically practice
As an athlete, you spend countless hours training your physical body to perform. Now that you know the importance of your mental state, reflect on how much time you spend training your brain.
Start small with mini check-ins throughout the day. When you think of it, ask your mind where is your body? How is your body feeling? How is your mind feeling? Are there emotions present?
Guided Imagery for Athletes
Mindful Movement for Athletes
Seated pigeon – improves mobility
Cobra – releases pressure in the spine.
Dolphin – stretches the upper back and shoulders, hamstrings, calves and foot arches at the same time.
Frog – improves strength of connective tissue around the ankles and knees, which makes it a great warm-up movement prior to lower-body exercises.
Supported Backbends – they very lightly stretch tight spots, while giving athletes a chance for deep relaxation, which speeds up recovery.
Reclined Big Toe – strengthens the knees and can target the IT band (a common tight spot in runners) and can relieve backaches and sciatic pain. Using a band/strap makes it accessible for everyone.
Boat Pose – increases abdominal and hip flexor strength.
Bow Pose – stretches the front of the body, improves posture and strengthens the back muscles.