Meditation helps athletes and sports players of all abilities. We know this from multiple studies over recent years which show the huge advantages meditation can bring an athlete. There are also more and more high performers who swear by meditative techniques to keep them focused and on their best game. Olympic diving medalist Tom Daley, rugby player Johnny Wilkinson and the most decorated British female athlete of all time, Laura Trott, all use meditative techniques to support their performance.
The strongest opponent most of us will face in sport is ourselves, our inner thoughts and our stress levels, and it’s this battle in which meditation can give you the upper hand.
There is no restriction on which sports meditation can help you with, anyone can use it to up their game and become more confident, consistent and less likely to crack under pressure. So, how can meditation help you in sport?
An athlete or sports player’s focus will decide how successful they are in any sport. If they are not focussed they will likely miss that putt, or send the penalty over the crossbar. Training their minds through meditation to remain focussed means that at the critical point they are less likely to be distracted by noises, self-doubt or nerves. Any athlete can improve their game by learning to remain focussed.
Coping with pain
Most athletes have a story about how they had to compete whilst still being in pain. Maybe an injury hadn’t quite healed yet or there was an issue that caused pain but not bad enough to stop participation. Meditation has shown that it can help people cope with pain better.
Fear of failure or disappointing others, even fear of success, has been known to topple even the very best athletes. Meditation has shown that it can calm the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain), even when not actively meditating. This means that fears are far less likely to arise at critical moments.
Meditation calms you down, both mentally and physically. When we are calm, we feel safe, and when we feel safe, the body knows it can expend energy on its vital systems, including our immune system. When we are in a state of heightened stress, our bodies shut down the immune system, which is why stressed people get sick more often. Using mediation can keep your immune system active and therefore keep an athlete healthy and able to compete.
When athletes have a setback, they miss the winning shot or cause the team to lose a game through an error, the weight of that error can hang heavy over the athlete and cause them to worry and fill with self-doubt which means they don’t perform at their full potential. Meditation can help them release the memory of the error and not let it hold them back in the future; they can let go, reset their mind and re-focus on the challenge in hand.
The world’s top athletes didn’t get to where they are by giving up when things were hard. Resilience kept them going long after other people had given up. Meditation can make an athlete more resilient, they can use the time they are meditating to visualise their goals, remind themselves what they are aiming for, and detach themselves from negative thoughts that could keep them from success.
Stress is never far from an athlete, the ability to operate under pressure is what separates successful athletes from less successful ones. Taking 5 minutes to meditate before performing can significantly up their game and get them in the right mindset to be their best.
Meditation practice leads to better control over thoughts and emotions. Mindful people have been shown to have better control of their emotional state and therefore be less affected by unwanted emotion mid-game. Remember, you don’t need ‘perfect’ conditions to meditate, even during an event, one deep calming breath can bring an athlete back into focus when things are starting to unravel.
Quality sleep is one of the most important things an athlete can do the night before a game. Bad/restless sleep can throw off their mental state, energy levels and ability to focus. Meditating before going to sleep can get the body and mind in the best place to encourage good sleep and maximise their chance of playing their best the next day.
When an athlete gets to a good standard in any sport it can get harder and harder to see where they need improvement, it’s why all the top athletes have coaches to help spot where they need help. Being unable to see where they need improvement can really hold an athlete back, meditation can help them see these ‘blind spots’ and once they are seen they can be worked on.
The best thing about this practice is that you don’t need to be a top athlete in order to get the benefits. Anyone, at any level, in any sport can use meditation to improve their game. What's more, it’s free! And only requires a few minutes of your day to start to make a difference.