Mindfulness For Sport

Mindfulness (focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations) is a key performance mental skill.

Do you practice mindfullness?
Mindfulness (focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations) is a key performance mental skill

The Power of The Present Moment

In every sport and performance area, there is a significant number of variables and factors that ultimately affect performance and results. Obviously, one of our jobs at Condor Performance (Applied Sport and Performance Psychologists) is to make sure that our clients have direct access to the mental skills that are most likely to help with these variables.

One such variable we encourage the athletes and coaches we work with to focus on during training and competition is the present moment. It is here where we have the best opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves.

What I tend to notice when discussing the present moment with people is that the old cliche of “one step/shot/swing/etc. at a time” is commonly brought up. However, without any commitment to a change in behaviour this belief merely acts as a “bumper sticker” mental skill. It is this point I want to focus on for this edition of the Mental Toughness Digest. In doing so I’ll identify further strategies to help you remain in the ‘here and now’ so that you have the best possible influence on your performances.

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge a view that I’ve heard that some of the more stop-start sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and volleyball, are better ‘organically’ for staying in the present because the sport is naturally broken down into smaller events (single point or shot). During the period between these events, athletes are able to apply strategies such as pre-performance routines to ensure they are in the best position to achieve optimal focus.

However, I believe this doesn’t paint the complete picture of resetting and staying in the moment. With some creativity and thought the ability to do this is both applicable and extremely valuable in all sports.

It has such a high value because it can benefit us in a number of different ways regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Being able to bring ourselves back to the present moment by finding opportunities to break the match/game/race down into smaller events can act like the mental reset button we long for when things aren’t going our way. It allows us to stop stress or nerves from continuously building as we aren’t getting overwhelmed by what’s to come as our mind is focused on achieving technical and tactical excellence in the short term. By doing so, it can increase our confidence as there is a greater ability to manage these short-term targets, giving us the chance to correct any errors and halt negative momentum from developing. It also allows us to move on from a mistake and not get caught ruminating or hesitating due to disappointment from past actions.

On the other hand, it can also be useful in maintaining positive momentum as it keeps our mind focussed and reduces the chance of complacency in our performance. We remain in the driver’s seat because we are actively searching for opportunities to push ourselves and play with high quality throughout our sporting contest. So essentially, it can be used as both a corrective skill when things are not going our way as well as a preventative skill to provide us with the best chance of optimal performance.

Even In Dynamic Team Sports

All sports have natural points of change or checkpoints that lend themselves to being associated with breaking sport down and applying a mental skill at these times. In basketball, this could be crossing half court when possession changes, in football (soccer) when there is a free kick or throw in, in rugby codes when possession changes hands and you are lining up offensively or defensively, or even in swimming when you push off the wall to start the next lap. As you can see, these moments don’t have to be long because the skills we want to apply are designed to be simple and effective. We don’t want to create more issues by overthinking or feeling pressure to work through a checklist of items each time this occurs. What we do want is a phrase or word that reflects the effort or application we want to have during the next portion of our performance, which is controllable and therefore increases the likelihood that it’s going to happen. Some examples for these thoughts could be: saying “post up aggressively” in basketball when transitioning to offence, in swimming it could be “pull through the water”, or in football “make yourself available”. These thoughts reset our focus to something that aids performance and reminds us of how we intend to play based on our preparations. They will be different for each person, but are common in that they are solutions based and reflect the style we want to perform with.

If you’d like to ‘dip your toes’ into some more Mindfulness related techniques for sport and performance then skip straight to the Emotions section of Metuf for Sports by clicking here.