Mindfulness Training in Sports Articles

Why You Should Compete With a Calm Mind in Sports

Eli Straw
Why You Should Compete With a Calm Mind in Sports

I talk a lot about the importance of performing with a calm mindset. The reason is because a calm mind is a focused mind. But what exactly does a calm mind mean...

I was talking with one of the athletes I work with yesterday and found that not everyone views a calm mindset in the same way that I do. In fact, he had a lot of push back when it came to performing with a calm mindset.

He thought of a calm mindset as being dull and kind of indifferent to winning.

That's not at all what I mean when I say you want to perform with a calm mindset.

Of course you should want to win. Of course you want to be aggressive and have that competitive spirit where you want to dominate the competition.

But how you actually do that is where a true calm mindset comes into play.

What it Means to Perform With a Calm Mind

To better understand what I mean by a calm mindset I want to use the analogy of a ship sailing on the ocean.

When the ocean is calm, the ship can sail easily and you as the captain can control where you want the ship to go.

However, when the ocean isn't calm and there are waves thrashing about, the ship will be tossed in different directions and it will be very difficult for you to control.

The same is true when it comes to your mind.

When you play, you want your mind to be calm like the ocean when it's easy to control the ship, because you want it to be easy to control your attention. It's not that you want your mind to be calm where you don't care. Instead, you want it to be calm like the still ocean.

You don't want your mind to be like a roaring sea where the waves are making it impossible to steer your ship. In that case, it's very difficult for you to control your attention.

And during a game, when your mind isn't calm, it's because you have many thoughts racing through your head. Your thoughts are like those waves on the ocean.

So when I say a calm mind is a focused mind, it's because a calm mind is a still mind where you now have the power to control what you focus on.

Benefits of a Calm Mind

When you perform with a calm mind, you are in control of your attention. That means you are in control of your thoughts. It is the controlling of your thoughts where we see many of the benefits of playing with a calm mind.

Here is how playing with a calm mind increases your performance...

  • Improved Focus: the more still your mind is, the easier it is to focus. The more focused you are on what you are doing, the better you will perform.
  • Increased Confidence: when you feel like you are in control, that's where we see confidence begin to increase during games. Because you know that you are in control of your mindset and the way you perform.
  • Decreased Fear & Anxiety: fear and anxiety are caused by outcome-oriented thinking and focusing on past mistakes. When you have a calm mind, you reduce those negative thoughts and keep yourself more focused in the present moment.
  • More Relaxed Body: muscle tightness and tensing up happen when you're anxious or fearful. The more still your mind is, the more relaxed your body will be. Not in a bad way, but in a way that increases your reaction time and quickness.
  • Improves Self-Talk: negative self-talk leads to decreased confidence and increased fear and anxiety. But when you have a calm mind, you are able to choose what you want to think. This increases your ability to think positively and productively during games.

How to Calm Your Mind Going into a Game

Knowing the benefits of performing with a calm mind, your goal should be to get into a calm mindset going into a game. To do so, we must approach this in two different ways.

The first way is working to calm your mind in general. This happens by using a specific mental training technique to do so.

The second way is using a pregame exercise to calm your mind as you go into a competition.

Training a Calm Mind

Think about training a calm mind much like you do training your physical skills. You don't just warm up before a game and hope that's enough. You train consistently to keep improving your skills.

So, when you want to perform with a calmer mind, you must begin training your mind to be calmer on a daily basis. The best mental training exercise to do so is mindfulness meditation.

When you practice mindfulness meditation, you are training your ability to concentrate. You also reduce the racing thoughts that are what lead to you not performing with a calm mind in the first place.

This has been the best exercise I've seen that's helped athletes gain more control over their mindset and work to instill a calmer mind on a more consistent basis.

Here's how you can begin training a calm mind through mindfulness...

  • Get into a comfortable position (typically sitting in a chair works best).
  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and begin taking nice, deep breaths.
  • As you breathe, focus your attention on your breath.
  • When you notice a thought or you become distracted (which you will), bring your awareness back onto your breath.

Mindfulness meditation needs consistency. If you perform this exercise on a daily basis, it will help you tremendously to instill a calmer mind going into a game.

Pregame Exercise for a Calm Mind

Once you are training mindfulness meditation, you want to also have an exercise you do right before a game to help get your mind calm.

Now, this exercise is not a substitute for mindfulness meditation. I recommend you still practice mindfulness the morning before a game. This exercise is just something you can do in addition to that.

The exercise involves using self-talk statements to control your attention.

As you get ready to start a game, if your mind is not so calm (so there are a lot of waves on the ocean), you can use self-talk to help calm and control your thoughts.

Self-talk refers to the way you think and speak to yourself. Self-talk statements are pre-chosen phrases you will say to yourself. And the thing about these statements is that you want to have them memorized before the game.

The reason you want them memorized is because it's going to be very difficult for you to remember the statements since your mind is racing.

To help memorize the statements, I always have athletes repeat the phrases to themselves each day.

Now the statements you choose need to be specific to you. They need to work to increase your confidence and get yourself into the mindset you want to compete.

Here are a few examples of some good self-talk statements to calm your mind going into a game...

  • Relax, breathe, stay present.
  • I am confident and I believe in myself.
  • I am going to dominate today.
  • I am a great player.
  • Be here. Stay focused.

You want your statements to be simple and easy to remember. But you also want them to be meaningful to you.

Once you've created your statements and begun repeating them each day, now it's time to apply them going into a game. What you want to do is put them on repeat and continually think those statements.

This takes control of your thinking and begins to calm your mind by reducing the uncontrollable racing thoughts by replacing them with the thoughts you've deliberately chosen.

Final Thoughts

A calm mind is a focused mind. Not because a calm mind makes you dull, but because a calm mind is still, which means you now have the power to choose what to think and choose what to focus on.

When you reclaim this type of control, it has many positive benefits on your game. It will increase your confidence, improve your focus, decrease fear and anxiety, and much more.

To help get yourself into a calm mindset going into a game you want to be training mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. Then, before a game you want to use a specific self-talk routine.

With this approach, you will begin to calm your mindset and gain more control over it on a daily basis, and help yourself center your attention as the game begins.

If you have any questions about performing with a calm mindset, mental coaching, or any other sport psychology topic, please fill out the form below.

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

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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