The Importance of Mindfulness in the Lives of Athletes

What is Mindfulness and has it become cliché?

Simply stated, mindfulness is the practice of focusing one’s attention on what you are feeling and sensing during the present moment, with an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is being present and observing without judgment.

For example, mindful eating would focus solely on the experience of eating food. It could include taking small bites of food, chewing slowly, noticing the flavors and texture, and savoring the entire experience.

Many of us don’t take the time for mindful eating.

Instead, we eat while driving, hurriedly during our too-short lunch break; or while feeling stressed about our next work meeting. Perhaps we would enjoy the full experience if our minds were not scattered over several activities at once. But this blog isn’t about mindful eating. Instead, it’s about mindfulness in athletics.

Today’s athletes are under a lot of pressure.

This Spring, our community was shaken when three Division 1 female athletes took their own lives in a moment of desperation.

Presumably, they felt they could no longer handle all the stress and expectations. What could anyone have done to prevent these tragedies? Could mindfulness benefit our student athletes’ mental health, which is inextricably linked to their health as a whole person?

Being human is a complex gig. Beyond our mental and physical health, we need to nourish and nurture our emotional and spiritual needs. The practice of mindfulness allows us to stay fully in the present moment. We do not dwell on past successes or failures, nor will we project about future events that have not yet happened.

  • Mindfulness teaches us acceptance.
    Mindfulness teaches us detachment from events; it helps us get to know ourselves on a deeper, more intimate level. For example, many athletes suffer from anxiety about their past performance and their current capabilities. That anxiety can reduce their enjoyment and appreciation for their sport. When our minds focus on the past, we feel the emotions tied to these memories, robbing us of the gift of experiencing the present.
  • Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment.
    Mindfulness allows us to observe the chaos without judgment or attachment. If we have the skills to detach, observe and accept, our athletic performance does not define who we are. Instead, our performance becomes the experience we have during the sport.
  • Mindfulness helps us learn and believe in our worth.
    We are more than our physical abilities, more than our accomplishments in sports, and our successes in competition. Our value comes from within. Mindfulness allows our young athletes to see a bigger picture of themselves as complete, valuable human beings, regardless of their performance on the field.
  • Mindfulness helps us regulate our emotions.
    Athletes tend to express their emotions powerfully, whether celebrating a goal scored or outrage over an unfair call. This level of emotion can be beneficial, but it can also be a weakness. When our emotions get the best of us, we may act in ways we later regret.
    A mindfulness practice includes being still and paying attention to your breathing and specific areas of your body. A beginner’s mind will wander, worrying about how this is helping and all the other things they could be doing. By acknowledging these thoughts and returning to focusing solely on breathing, your mind and body respond by calming down. Over time, you will notice when you are overstimulated and need more calm and quiet mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness lays the groundwork for our belief that we are whole and complete, just by being ourselves.
    When other aspects of our lives are in turmoil, practicing mindfulness brings us back to who we are on the inside, with the full belief that we are enough and loved. We are not our accomplishments; our sport does not define us. We are whole and valuable.

Wherever you choose to begin, simply begin! Cultivating a mindfulness practice can open the door toward a simpler, more fulfilling, and lower-stress life. Through mindfulness, we, and our athletes, can bring balance to our fast-paced, hectic lives. We deserve this.

To begin your mindfulness practice, try downloading any of these apps:

  • Headspace: great, short mindfulness practices
  • Calm: new options daily; website/desktop access
  • Insight Timer (free!): daily feelings check-in helps cultivate awareness of our emotions
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