Mindfulness and the Here and Now in Sport
It’s difficult for the body to perform at high levels when the mind isn’t present and focused.
Being in the here and now is essential for performing your best. However, it’s not easy to stay in the present moment as the mind can jump from one thought to the next.
In any scenario, there is a lot of information coming through our senses (what we see, hear, feel, smell, etc.).
ATTENTION is the process of directing our awareness to select information.
FOCUS is being in the moment, engaged without distraction; ideally, giving your attention to the right things at the right time.
MINDFULNESS is not necessarily the practice of meditation or quieting the mind, but to be in the present moment. Mindfulness is also the awareness and allowance of thoughts and emotions to pass through without judgement, without attaching a positive or negative meaning, or suppressing them altogether.
In any performance, distractions are everywhere. We have internal distractions when our minds wander to random/irrelevant thoughts, when our self-critic talk chimes in, or we ruminate on past or future events. Thoughts stuck on past events, such as mistakes, can prevent you from focusing on the here and now. Performance errors are going to happen, however, there is no time to dwell on a past mistake during performance. Future events, such as the outcome of a performance, can be another distraction. While the outcome is meaningful and can serve as a major source of motivation, it can also pull you out of the present and away from what you need to do in the moment to succeed. It’s okay to be in the past (e.g. evaluation of great performances or mistakes) or the future (e.g. planning, goal setting) just not when it is time to perform. External distractions are also all over the place when performing including crowds, the scoreboard, your opponent, coaches, announcements, the weather, etc.
Mindfulness and focus are skills; and just like physical skills, they must be practiced, developed, and refined so that they become yours.
You would not expect to improve technique, strength, or conditioning by training once or sporadically. The same is true for mental skills.
The following are five techniques to practice mindfulness and being in the present moment.
- Focus on the process of what you’re doing, not the outcome. What is the play? What are your responsibilities? What is your job? Know the keys that matter to succeeding at your task. Focus on the relevant details. Think about what you have to do and stay focused on the task at hand.
- Check in with yourself. Are you in the present moment, the here and now? Talk to yourself, ask yourself, “where are you?” the answer should be “right here, right now.” Another anchoring cue word you can try reciting to yourself is the acronym W.I.N. which stands for What’s Important Now?!
- When it comes to distractions, understand there is no “blocking out.” Deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface. Trying to block out certain elements will prompt more thoughts and awareness to them. Instead, observe them without judgement and move on (mindfulness) and or instruct yourself to focus on the task at hand. Focusing on the task at hand will effectively block out the unwanted distractions by narrowing attention to the task.
- Have a distraction routine. Routines help automate behaviors, enhance feelings of control, and can help you stay focused. Have a plan to release, regroup, and refocus when you encounter distractions and performance errors/mistakes. Perhaps it’s a cue word, a phrase (next play; right here, right now), or a symbolic gesture that will serve as a trigger to bring your composure and focus back. Remember, during performance time is limited and a routine will need to be brief.
- Awareness, Acceptance, Action is a three-step process for mindfulness to bring you back to the present moment. First, you must have awareness of what is happening, along with associated thoughts in your mind, emotions, sensations in your body, and your breath. Next, accept what is happening by adopting a non-judgmental attitude toward the stimuli and reactions (e.g. okay, I am in this moment). Then, take action by refocusing attention to constructive goals or performance-related cues.
Also, keep in mind when learning mental skills:
- When it comes to cue words, routines, and strategies, what resonates and or works for one individual may not work for another. Experiment with what works best for you.
- CONSISTENCY is key. Developing skills takes practice and repetition over time. Practice daily, multiple times per day.
- PRACTICE first with no distractions. Then incorporate progression into your practice. Increase practice in more difficult / demanding environments or situations. Start using them in situations outside of sports. And eventually, use them in competition.
- You can also keep a journal/log of how well certain skills worked.
To summarize, what we direct our focus towards makes a big difference in our performance. How do you learn to focus on the right things at the right time? By knowing your job, tasks, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This knowledge varies from sport to sport, task to task, moment to moment, and athlete to athlete.
Mindfulness helps one to be in the present moment; to catch the wandering mind; to reduce internal agitation; and refocus on the present moment and tasks. Last and never least, mindfulness serves to take notice of your senses and your experience in order to enjoy it, recall it, and help cultivate gratitude.
WE CANNOT APPRECIATE WHAT WE DON'T NOTICE.
Triad Athletes is a San Diego youth lacrosse training program focused on growing womens lacrosse on the west coast.
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