At first glance, mindfulness and sports performance might seem like polar opposites. Mindfulness is traditionally equated with quiet contemplation, such as examining the translucent petals on a cherry blossom. In comparison, sports performance often relates to running as fast as you can, hitting a 90-mile-per-hour ball, and other feats of quick, powerful activity.
At their core, however, mindfulness and sports are tightly entwined in extremely powerful ways. Think of how top athletes describe their best playing moments.
In Tom Brady’s book The TB12 Method he says, “It was one of those days. I was ‘in the zone’. I was throwing the ball better than I ever had, and I remember being excited about the opportunity to play and to show all the things I’d been working on in the off-season.”
In the zone.
The connotation of those three key words is that the athlete is wholly and fully engaged in the moment. They are not judging or wrapped up in emotions or second-guessing themselves. They are wholly aware of what is going around them and are reacting naturally. Everything is one. The world is interconnected and open.
Another related concept is the Runner’s High. This happens in a variety of activities, generally ones where there is a long, continuous, rhythmic component. It’s been reported in swimming, biking, and so on. The activity soothes you into an almost meditative trance, where the world falls away and what is left is you, your body, and the universe through which you move.
Mindfulness is at the core of all of these things.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about training the mind to be present in the moment in a calm, compassionate, non-judgmental manner. Our human minds naturally tend to jump around from thought to thought, to ponder the past and plan for the future. With mindfulness, we gently remind ourselves that the one moment in which we can act is now. This one moment before us is the only one in which we can make a difference.
The past is gone and cannot be touched or changed. It is beyond our reach. The future is unknowable and could easily change. We should prepare for it but not live there. The place in which we impact our environment and ourselves is this one moment before us.
Mindfulness and Sports
You can see how mindfulness is so critical in any sports activity. So much of performance in sports comes down to proper technique, proper execution, attention to the world around us, and so on. If we are playing in a team-based sports game and our mind is obsessed with a movie we saw last night, it’s unlikely we’ll play to our full potential. Similarly, if we’re biking a tricky course through a wood and we keep pondering just what we’re going to buy at the supermarket later in the evening, we could easily miss seeing a root or branch.
We need to be attentive. Aware. In the moment.
The idea is not to be obsessing about details – “What should I do next? What if I make the wrong move here? Do I look stupid when I twist like this?” Rather, the attention one gives in mindfulness is soft, gentle, and understanding. One trusts in the training one has received up until this moment and does their best. That is all that any of us can do in life.
Mindfulness when Practicing
Mindfulness begins during the practice sessions. Attention to detail can be crucial when learning new techniques or when making patterns part of our subconscious. It can be quite important to angle the arm just so. To breathe at just the right moment. To flex the knee just enough – but not too much. By being mindful and attentive to one’s actions, one can ensure they use their body wisely, to build strength without causing harm.
The more that one invests in creating healthy, solid routines, the more that those routines will manifest during key moments as second nature.
Mindfulness in Competition
There are times when we face stress and challenge in our active lives. Whether it’s maintaining a yoga practice through an injury or facing the final competition in a sports league, the additional stress and pressure can test us all. Mindfulness helps us reach a zone where we rise above the issues. We rely on our training and trust in it. We put aside judgment and the past. We fill ourselves fully with the moment at hand. Nothing else matters.
Mindfulness in Life
Part of how mindfulness helps is that it lifts up every moment of our overall life. It can be hard to really focus on a triathlon if you’re stressed about how your partner will react when he sees the new paint job you designed for the living room. Modern politics can cause immense stress simply by a person’s turning on a TV or opening a web browser. All of those stressors impact our emotional health and physical health.
The more we can learn to move through those situations without allowing them to drain us, the more energy we have available for the things we wish to do in life.
The more that you practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes to draw it around you when it’s most important. Strive to practice daily. The more that mindfulness becomes a natural, normal part of your daily life, the more that it will be there for you in those moments where it matters most.