Mindfulness Training for Athletes

As an athlete, if you find yourself underperforming in competition, this can be incredibly frustrating. Especially if you’re playing well in practice. You can drive yourself crazy trying to analyze your mechanics and figure out what’s wrong.

But the truth is, if you are performing well in practice, it’s likely not physical. The reason you aren’t playing well in games has to do with your mindset. There is something holding you back mentally from performing up to your potential.

As a mental coach, I work with athletes on overcoming the mental game challenges that are keeping them from performing their best and help them build stronger mental skills.

To do so, there are specific sport psychology tools I use. One of the main ones being mindfulness training.

Mindfulness training for athletes is a powerful tool you can begin using that will have a wide range of benefits on your game.

In this article, you will learn the benefits of mindfulness training and how you can begin using mindfulness as an athlete.

Mindfulness for Athletes Explained

Mindfulness is defined as the state of having your awareness completely centered in the present moment. In basic terms, it means you are focused in the here and now.

When you are in a mindful state, you aren’t worried about what’s going to happen. You’re also not thinking about the mistake you just made. You are fully aware of what’s going on right now and that is all you are focused on.

Right there we can begin to see how helpful mindfulness is for athletes. Imagine if you played every game completely focused on what you’re doing. You didn’t waste energy thinking about what’s going to happen or worry about a mistake. How much better do you think you’d play?

That’s exactly why you need to be training mindfulness.

We’ll get more into the benefits of mindfulness in a second. For now, let’s talk about how you actually go about training this state.

“Mindfulness is defined as the state of having your awareness completely centered in the present moment. In basic terms, it means you are focused in the here and now.”

Basics of Mindfulness Training

The state of mindfulness is what you’re working to improve through training mindfulness. That does not mean in order to train mindfulness you must be in a completely mindful state. If you feel that way, it can quickly lead to you feeling like you’re not doing it right and give up.

The actual training of mindfulness involves noticing your attention drifting, then returning it onto the present moment.

That’s it. It’s as simple as that. We’ll go into more detail about the exercises you can use to facilitate the training, but at the core, that’s your goal. Notice your attention drifting, then bring it back into the present moment.

The reason I bring this up first is because a lot of athletes will start a mindfulness practice and then get frustrated because they can’t stop themselves from thinking about anything and everything. But that’s okay…that’s kind of the point.

It’s okay for you to have a lot of thoughts while you’re training mindfulness. You don’t need your mind to be blank. You just need to have awareness when you start to think about something else, and then return your attention onto the present moment.

It’s that act of noticing and then returning where the benefits of mindfulness for athletes are found.

“The actual training of mindfulness involves noticing your attention drifting, then returning it onto the present moment.”

Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Sports

The benefits of mindfulness training go beyond simply getting better at keeping yourself in a mindful state. Yes, that will be improved. But even more than that, there are accompanying mental skills that will be developed as well.

Here are the main benefits of mindfulness for athletes:

  • Improved Focus: by training mindfulness you strengthen your ability to concentrate and control your attention.
  • Increased Self-Awareness: as you watch your thoughts and become more aware of them, you will gain greater understanding of yourself and the way you think.
  • Reduced Anxiety: the more you can center your attention in the present moment, the less you will be thinking about the future, and the less anxious you will feel.
  • Reduced Reactivity: this means you won’t react so quickly to mistakes and get so upset emotionally when things happen.
  • Fewer Racing Thoughts: as you train mindfulness, you will begin to have less and less racing thoughts during games.

Mindfulness Training Activities for Athletes

Earlier you learned that to train mindfulness all you have to do is notice when your mind drifts and bring it back into the present moment. Seems easy enough…except for when you forget to do it.

That’s why you need a set training activity to make sure you stay consistent with your practice. Because mindfulness is a tool that needs to be used on a regular basis in order to have the greatest benefit on your game.

What you want to do is choose one of the three activities listed below and put it into practice on a consistent basis to begin training mindfulness for yourself.

Activity #1: Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is where you sit for a certain amount of time, with your eyes closed, and focus on your breath. As you do, you want to notice when you become distracted by a thought. Then, simply return your attention onto your breath.

With mindfulness meditation, I recommend you start with five minutes a day. Then, if that seems easy enough, you can increase it to ten and so on. You want to start small because your goal in the beginning is consistency.

Plus, it’s kind of hard to meditate for long if you’ve never done it before.  

When you do your meditation, you can sit in a chair or on the floor, but make sure you are in a place where you won’t be disturbed for the amount of time you have decided to meditate.

Also, you want to set yourself a timer, so that you know when you’re finished. That way you aren’t trying to center your attention onto your breath, while simultaneously thinking about whether or not you’re meditated long enough.

Activity #2: Mindful Walk/Jog

As with mindfulness meditation, your goal is to focus on your breath, recognize when you become distracted by a thought, and then return your focus onto your breath. Except this time, it’s going to be done while you’re walking or jogging.

The reason these two activities are good opportunities to train mindfulness is that they are rhythmic. When you walk or jog, you tend to settle into a nice pace. That meditative rhythm helps when it comes to mindfulness.

As with meditation, you want to decide on how long you’re going to train mindfulness for. Just because you go on an hour walk, doesn’t mean you have to try and be mindful for that whole time. Set your timer for just five minutes, or so, and try to be mindful for that amount of time.

“When you walk or jog, you tend to settle into a nice pace. That meditative rhythm helps when it comes to mindfulness.”

Activity #3: Mindful Tasks

Just as with mindfulness meditation and mindful walks/jogs, your goal is to focus on your breath, notice when you become distracted, then return your attention onto your breath. Except now, you can do it when you’re washing the dishes, or taking a shower, or brushing your teeth.

When you find yourself performing repetitive tasks that take little brain power, that’s a great opportunity to train mindfulness.

Let’s say you’re brushing your teeth. There’s two minutes right there. As you brush your teeth, just try and focus on the present moment. Keep pulling your attention back onto the present moment whenever you start thinking about something else.

With mindful tasks, you can take simple activities you do on a daily basis and turn them into an opportunity to train and improve yourself as an athlete.

Tip to Stay Mindful During Games

As you train mindfulness, it will become more and more natural for you to be in a mindful state. That means it will be easier for you to control your attention during games. However, there are still going to be times when you get distracted. What then?

What you can do is use a modified version of the activities listed above, focusing on a single principle they all have in common…your breath.

Each of the exercises involves focusing on your breathing. Why? Because when you focus on your breathing, you are automatically bringing your awareness into the present moment.

What you can do during games whenever you become distracted is turn your attention onto your breath. Focus on taking nice, deep breaths.

This is going to do two things. Number one, as you take deep breaths, you will help yourself relax and calm down. Number two, the more you focus on your breathing, the more present you will become.

To make it easier on yourself to focus on your breathing, you can start counting. For example, breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five. Just as a way to keep your attention focused on your breath.

“What you can do during games whenever you become distracted is turn your attention onto your breath. Focus on taking nice, deep breaths.”

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful skill for all athletes to develop. When you improve your ability to be mindful, you increase your focus, improve your self-awareness, decrease anxiety, and reduce racing thoughts.

But being mindful is not easy, especially during a game when there are a ton of distractions. That’s why you want to be sure you are training mindfulness.

To train mindfulness, the basic idea is to focus your attention onto your breath, notice when you become distracted, and then return your attention onto your breath.

To help with this training, choose one of the activities outlined above: mindfulness meditation, mindful walks/jogs, or mindful tasks.

If you have any questions about mindfulness or any other sport psychology topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I will be happy to get back to you.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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