ESPN published an interview and article on how Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks are using mental training to gain a competitive edge. Pete's philosophy matches ours: If you have happier and more balanced players, they will be better able to manage their emotions, deal with stress, and ultimately perform at their peak when the pressure is on.
After all, sports don't happen in a vacuum and athletes are human beings capable of unproductive thoughts, excess emotions, and vulnerability to stress just like the rest of us.
Expect to see more and more teams doing this as the results speak for themselves and the cost is relatively low. As the article points out, meditation is a key component of their mental training plan. So let’s take a closer look at how meditation can help athletes perform better.
1. Stress management: Athletes are under an enormous amount of pressure and stress fairly consistently and yet we expect that they will somehow figure out how to deal with it appropriately. If professional athletes can’t figure it out, how do we expect a young athlete to figure it out? In some ways, we even want athletes to be stressed, especially in high level sports, because it will give them the appropriate ‘edge’, the mental focus necessary, and even the drive that can fuel them. But not all stress is helpful so differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress is key. There are two types of stress:
The body actually doesn’t differentiate between the two types of stress- it’s the MIND that does. And the difference between eustress and distress is very often our PERCEPTION of the stress and our coping skills. As you can see in the two examples, the athletes’ view of their world is the key difference. Meditation is one of the best ways for all of us to effectively deal with stress by keeping the eustress and getting rid of the distress. Here is a simple breathing exercise you or your athletes can do.
2. Thought and emotional regulation: Meditation puts you in the driver seat of your thoughts and emotions. It teaches you that your thoughts and emotions are not inevitable, that you are ultimately in control of them, and that you can choose to entertain the thoughts that come through your head- or not.
Athletes are disciplined people but unfortunately have usually been taught to equate mental discipline with negativity. So when they fail their first thoughts are usually negative. Training your athletes, just as the Seahawks starting Quarterback Russell Wilson did, to stay positive after a loss or failure.
3. It’s not always about doing more: In a violent sport like football, sitting still, closing your eyes and meditating might seem a little counterintuitive to the whole point of the sport. And yet, even for an NFL player, their performance is based on a flow of activities, split second decisions, and stopping and starting.
One NFL player we work with said, “My job consists of going from Mozart to Heavy Metal the entire game.” Knowing WHEN to go ‘Heavy Metal” is important for many reasons- avoiding late hits or off side penalties, staying on balance, and play awareness. No sport is ALWAYS about pushing more and more and more - there is always a rhythm to their effort.
Meditation teaches the body and mind to just be, even if for a limited amount of time. This centering can give an athlete tremendous control over their mind and even their physiological responses-i.e. heart rate. Teach your athletes to ‘go Mozart’ by practicing deep focused breathing several times a week.
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