Let’s face it; sport doesn’t exactly have a great reputation these days. The media is littered with stories of cheating, abuse, corruption, violence … you name it and the sporting world has probably seen it. Basically, organized sport needs a rebrand—and fast!
Athletes, coaches and owners are struggling to combine their aspirations of winning with the—not always popular or even welcome—role model status that accompanies elite competition. In my opinion, mindfulness and meditation is one strategy that can help accomplish both winning and creating a healthier culture within sport—and it doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.
For those of you that get this—hold tight for a moment. However, for those of you whose eyes may have just returned to face forward, I would invite you to put away all of the stereotypes and stories that you’ve heard or concocted about people who utilize mindfulness practices and open up to an idea that could not only change sport for the better, but also improve any athlete’s performance trajectory as well.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
First of all, if you think this was easy for me—you know, embracing the whole mindfulness thing, I have to tell you—I was that eye-rolling skeptic at one point in my athletic and coaching career, too. If I can change—ha, anyone can. Believe me!
As were the majority of athletes and coaches that I associated with, we believed that high performance was the result of hard work and grit, all of which was encompassed within a combative mindset. Now, I won’t argue that those two components aren’t essential and that a combative mindset can’t work—but I will argue that there’s so much more to high performance, and that a mindset based on conflict, held dear by many, is incredibly limiting.
Besides, if we’re going to continue to imbue the notion that 90% of the game, whatever that may be, is the mental and emotional component—perhaps we should actually walk that talk!
Beyond the high performance piece, however, there’s a bigger question here; how does sport remain relevant in a world overwhelmed with turmoil, poverty and despair? Good question. For too many around the globe, the Olympic medal count or winning championship titles have very little to do with their day-to-day survival.
If sport doesn’t elevate itself to another level of significance, I don’t believe it can remain pertinent to those who are suffering and challenged by so many parts of their lives. Sport has to provide us with something bigger. That’s where mindfulness practices utilizing meditation can serve sport on a deeper level and enable athletes to discover other reasons to engage in competition that transcend simply winning or losing.
When I’ve been asked what I enjoy most about coaching; for me it comes down to the relationship that I’ve established with my athletes, as well as knowing that our work together in the pursuit of high performance has brought about a transformative experience for that young person.
Don’t get me wrong, winning is fun, but after years of success it’s not what drives me. The athletes that I work with learn that sport is simply a vehicle for personal change. From that place they become ambassadors for what a mindful experience of sport can look like. Aside from the success they enjoy, invariably what they treasure is the experience of the journey and the deep inner work that’s transpired. When athletes move on from their careers in sport with that outlook on life, they become powerful conduits for positive change in the world.
As to the high performance piece, the science behind mindfulness practices and their affirmative impact on high performance athletes and teams are well documented.
Research shows that regular meditation supports the following attributes in athletes:
- Improved and sustainable focus during training and competition.
- Increased aptitude for mental toughness and grit.
- Reduced mental stress that results from intense competition.
- Supports our ability to generate positive self-talk.
- Helps develop our inner trust that ‘we have what it takes’ to compete.
As a coach, I’ve seen the winning results of these attributes with the teams that I’ve worked with—I no longer need convincing. It’s simply an inherent part of any competitive strategy my teams embrace going forward.
In fact, take Simon Whitfield as an example. This four-time Olympian in triathlon has more Olympic, World Cup and Commonwealth Games medals as well as other impressive accomplishments than I have room for in this blog. Point being, however, is that he’s had an athletic career that any athlete would part with a limb to call their own.
Yet, despite his many accolades, when asked if he could go back and have a redo with his triathlon career and change one component of his preparation; Simon’s answer was telling, “I would meditate one-minute for every minute that I trained.”
“Time spent in deep contemplation.” is Whitfield’s answer to achieving a higher level of performance. Now, I’ll admit, I’m stubborn at the best of times. But, if I was an aspiring athlete or coach, and I got wind of someone of Simon’s ability singing the praises of meditation with regard to high performance—I’d pay attention.
Strategies for supporting our high performance pursuits aside, mindfulness is the opportunity that could be the game-changer that sport so desperately needs.
As I’ve discovered along my own journey from that of a combative athlete and coach to one with a more holistic mindset, I can tell you straight up that my relationship with sport has evolved—drastically.
I used to see the purpose of competition as merely striving to be the victor—to stand atop the podium having defeated my lessor competitors. It was an experience that lived solely in my ego. My connection with sports existed only on the surface and filled a very shallow part of me.
Today, having adapted numerous mindfulness practices, my relationship with sport and competition lives in a much deeper place—serving a far greater need and purpose. I’ve realized as a coach that by utilizing meditation, yoga and other strategies that support our mental and emotional wellbeing, I’ve not only experienced far greater success with my teams, but I’ve helped my athletes realize the potential of high performance sport to transform their own lives.
Therein lies the truest opportunity for sport. If more coaches and athletes were to adapt a mindfulness practice that included meditation we could see an enormous shift in the future direction of sport. And, not just in the ability and performance of our athletes, but also in their role as global citizens.
Look, I’m not suggesting that we sing Kumbaya instead of national anthems at the beginning of games or finish them with group hugs—although, it probably wouldn’t hurt. No, instead, I’m suggesting that we try to change the culture and thereby the purpose of sport at its very root.
When we connect with the power of sport to not only transform lives but also inspire greatness, friendship, love and peace on a world scale—then we’re beginning to tap into the possibilities of sport. Until that time, we’re simply enabling sport to remain as the distraction that so many people; too many people utilize it for.
Mindfulness has the potential to raise the game in sport. Both in terms of performance and in how we as viewers experience it and how athletes participate in it. If we can shift that experience ever so slightly and make sport more relevant in the evolution of human consciousness, only then will sport begin to serve the greater good on a level it’s capable.
Photo credit: nipic.com.
Jason Dorland is a High-Perfomance Coach who believes the most undervalued and underutilized components of reaching our goals are the mental and emotional areas of our lives. With your commitment, Jason can help you make a positive difference in how you approach your life’s dreams and goals. Guaranteed! To find out how—contact Jason today!