Using Breathing to Control Yourself During Games

Your breath is often an overlooked skill you could be using to increase your athletic performance. By using breath work

One of my favorite tools to use as a mental coach is breath work. Your breathing is a natural process that’s often overlooked while competing.

But your breath is a powerful way for you to refocus, calm yourself down, and overall improve your performance.

Benefits of Breath Work for Athletes

When you begin making use of your breathing during games in a deliberate way, there are many benefits you can expect.

The idea behind taking deep breaths and using the breathing techniques outlined below, is that it impacts you both physically and mentally.

By taking nice, deep breaths, you slow down your heart rate and can reduce many of the physical symptoms of fear and anxiety (both of which are leading challenges athletes face during competition).

But what also happens is that by focusing on your breath, you control what you’re thinking about and you bring your awareness more into the present moment.

Let’s examine the two main mental game benefits using breath work will have on your game: focusing and calming yourself down.

How Breath Work Helps you Focus

During a game, you know that you need to be focused. But honestly, how easy is that?

It’s incredibly difficult!

There are tons of distractions you face as an athlete, including the fans, your own teammates and coaches, the opponents, the officials, and many more.

With all of these distractions, it’s important that you have a way of managing your focus during a game. And a great way you can do that is by turning your attention onto your breath.

An example to highlight how this works is a baseball player who’s getting ready to hit. He’s just gotten his sign from the coach and is about to step into the batter’s box.

Before he does, he takes a nice deep breath. This deep breath centers his attention into the present moment and helps to remove the distractions he faces.

Another example is a basketball player who is having trouble focusing during the game. While playing defense she is struggling and while playing offense she is struggling. her mind simply can’t focus.

So, what she does is turn her attention onto some count breathing (you will learn more about this later). By doing so, her attention is brought into the present moment and she lets go of all the distracting thoughts she was having.

How Breath Work Helps You Calm Down

Along with poor focus, another mental game challenge athletes face is getting too upset and having trouble letting go of a mistake.

This is something I work with athletes on a lot. Because if you can’t let go of a mistake and you carry it with you moving forward, this increases your chances of making another mistake.

Also, when you get really upset, this can blind you. Many athletes have mentioned how they almost black out after they make a mistake. This happens because they have gotten so upset that their anger has blinded them.

By making use of breath work and beginning to take deep breaths in these moments, this can help you calm yourself down.

It’s very similar to helping you refocus. 

Right away, taking deep breaths will calm you down. But then from a mental standpoint, when you really focus on your breath, you stop focusing on the mistake you just made. And if you stop focusing on the mistake, you aren’t going to be as upset about it.

How to Use Breath Work as an Athlete

There are two ways you can begin using breath work to increase your performances. These involve using it during games, and also using it on a daily basis.

Using Breath Work During Games

What you can do during games is use your breath to refocus and calm yourself down in the moment. This goes back to the two benefits we talked about earlier.

Let’s say you just made a mistake and you’re starting to get upset. You can take a deep breath in that moment to calm down.

Or maybe you’re stepping up to the plate, getting ready to run your route, or waiting on the next serve, in that moment you can focus on your breath to center your attention in the present moment.

When you use breath work during a game I recommend you use something known as count breathing. Count breathing involves breathing in for a certain number and breathing out for a certain number.

The rhythm I like the best is in for a count of five and out for a count of ten.

Take a nice deep breath as you count to five. Then, on your exhale, let your breath out slow and controlled for a count of ten.

This can be done for a single breath (such as right before a free throw or before a pitch) or on a continuous basis throughout the game.

When you use count breathing you are helping yourself calm down by taking a nice deep breath, but you are also controlling your focus by keeping your attention on the counting.

Using Breath Work on a Daily Basis

The second way you can use breath work as an athlete is on a daily basis. This helps in addition to using it during games because it trains your focus each day.

The more you practice controlling your breath, the easier it will be to control your breath during games. It’s the same reason you train your physical skills; so that they’re easy to use during games because you’ve engrained them into muscle memory.

What you can do to begin practicing breath work on a daily basis is set aside about five minutes each day to practice. Then, sit in a chair, close your eyes, and use the count breathing from above. Just keep this rhythm going, focusing completely on each number.

Naturally you will begin to think about something else. That’s okay! When you notice you aren’t focused on the counting anymore, simply return your attention onto the numbers and keep going.

By training breath work each day, you are getting comfortable with the exercise and you are training your attention which will make it easier to control your focus and manage yourself during games.

Final Thoughts

Your breath is often an overlooked skill you could be using to increase your athletic performance.

By using breath work, you can work on controlling your focus and calming yourself down after a mistake.

To make use of breath work as an athlete, there are two ways to do so: during games and on a daily basis.

During games, you can use count breathing to center your attention or calm yourself down. Then, on a daily basis you can use breath work to train your ability to focus and get more comfortable with the skill. That way it’s easier to use during games.

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

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

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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The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

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