Getting in the Zone: Mindfulness for Athletes

Photo from Swarthmore College

Photo from Swarthmore College

I enjoy consulting with athletes and coaches, developing mindfulness skills to increase performance. These skills apply to all of us — we are all athletes in the challenging game of life. Every day we wake up, suit up and walk out into the day ahead, the same way a soccer player leaves the locker room and runs out to the field. In our daily lives, we go head-to-head with opponents such as stress, anxiety and the busyness of each day. Sometimes athletes win and sometimes athletes lose, but both you and the soccer player on the field can improve the odds of the game with mindfulness practice.

Incorporating mindfulness into athletic training has been rising in popularity in recent years. Mindfulness and sports psychology expert George Mumford has written a book on how mindfulness increases athletic performance. He has worked with athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, improving their ability to deliver on the court.

There has even been scientific research into the benefits of integrating mindfulness into athletic training. In the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, a study was done on the effectiveness of mindfulness training on Division 1 football players. This study found that with only 12 minutes of mindfulness a day, athletes showed more mental resilience than they had without it. This resilience can help players cope with stress and pressure to perform well in games. Managing stress as an athlete is necessary for them to be able to stay focused on their game strategy and pay attention to every move they make on the field.

Photo by  Braden Collum  on  Unsplash

Athletes speak of getting into the zone. The zone is a state of being where the athlete learns to fully focus on the present moment, releasing distractions of past and future. Mindfulness practices help athletes develop extraordinary focus so that they can skillfully get into the zone and sustain it. Flow is another term used in this context. Calm centered space is what anchors the mindful athlete in the present moment and facilitates high performance and flow.

Zone and flow are not just for sports, anyone can get into the zone and experience flow. You may naturally enter a state of flow when you are doing an activity you enjoy such as taking a walk or writing in a journal. With mindfulness, you can develop skills that will allow you to experience flow even when you are feeling stressed. We are all athletes in life; mindfulness is how we stay on top of our game.