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Let's go a little deeper. Mindfulness is a habit of paying attention to the present. It's being aware of your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and environment. The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness - not paying attention to what's going on around you or how your thoughts and emotions are impacting your behavior.
The ability to concentrate and give something your undivided attention is not just a "nice to have" attribute, it's a crucial skill in getting better at anything. Much of mindfulness meditation is a practice in noticing when you're distracted and then refocusing. This skill has numerous applications across sports from improving your "next play speed" after a mistake, to having practice sessions that actually result in improvement, to being able to get into flow (sometimes called "the zone") while you play.
Confidence is one of the most essential ingredients to high performance, so athletes who are intentional about building their confidence are a step ahead. Mindfulness helps people build confidence in two ways. First, through the practice of self-compassion, you can learn to encourage yourself in ways that build you up, rather than making yourself feel terrible every time you fall short. Research by Kristin Neff at the University of Texas shows that being kind to yourself is more effective than being critical. Second, practicing mindfulness will make you quicker to notice when the story you're telling yourself is breaking down your confidence, so that you can replace your self-talk with something more helpful.
If you want to be a great teammate and a great leader, practicing mindfulness will lead you in the right direction. Practicing mindfulness helps us become less reactive to stress, and calm leaders are effective leaders. (Did you know stress is contagious?) Furthermore, having the ability to understand what you're feeling and express it effectively is an essential skill for connecting with others. As an added bonus, it's sure to help you with those off the field relationships, too.
Research by Sian Beilock at the University of Chicago shows that long-time meditators perform better under stressful situations. She suggests that people who practice mindfulness are better at eliminating distractions under pressure and refocusing their mind on only what matters. Practicing mindfulness helps you become an expert at staying present which is critical when the crowd is buzzing, the butterflies are swirling, and everything is riding on the next play.
Research by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina shows that you are more likely to succeed if you experience at least three times as many positive emotions as negative ones. Luckily, her research also shows that we can build positive emotions into our lives and many of her tools to do so include mindfulness and meditation. Building your well-being by being present, practicing gratitude, cultivating hope, and developing self-compassion help you as a person and a player. This is not sugar coating failure; this is building more success into your life.
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For golfers who are competing in tournaments and actively working on their game.
For competitive athletes in any sport who care about getting better.
For basketball players in high school and college who are trying to win championships and get to the next level.