“George helped me understand the art of mindfulness. To be neither distracted or focused, rigid or flexible, passive or aggressive. I learned just to be.”
— Kobe Bryant, 5-time NBA champion, Los Angeles Lakers
The most important skill for an athlete to cultivate is the ability to be in the present moment. An athlete needs to be in the game as it’s happening. So often, athletes are consumed by the play/mistake that just happened, future tripping on the outcome (winning or losing), or distracted by things outside of their control (bad calls by refs., weather conditions, coach’s actions, opponents remarks…).
Mindfulness trains an athlete to be in the moment, absorbed in the activity, allowing the athlete to play their best. This is what a lot of athletes call “flow” or being in the “zone”. When we practice mindfulness (being aware, being engaged with the present moment), we are more likely to experience “flow”. Mindfulness allows an athlete to clearly see what is going on, which gives them a better grip on what needs to happen next.
I was listening to a top Olympic Sport Psychologist yesterday, and he said that he tells his athletes to spend more time meditating than practicing/training. You have to practice training your mind to be where it needs to be when it needs to be there. Most athletes are trained in distraction, so it will take intentional practice to train the brain to focus on the task at hand.
It’s natural to be nervous before competition, but when you’re in the middle of a high-stakes game, are you able to stay connected with the present moment? Or, does your mind flood with thoughts of previous errors or jump ahead to future outcomes like a missed free throw or a double fault?
Thinking about the past or future creates a stress response, and the part of the brain that keeps us engaged in the moment shuts down. This mental chatter makes it almost impossible to maintain perspective and focus. Athletes can’t make good decisions, solve problems or stay composed when they are stressed about their performance.
If you’re an athlete, I highly recommend you do the App Headspace every day. It will train your brain to notice when it’s distracted from the task at hand, and with practice, you will become skilled at quickly bringing it back. And, as Kobe notes above, it will teach you how to simply be.