Why You Should Meditate To Improve Your Sport Performance?

Sports Psychology Tips: Why You Should Meditate To Improve Your Sport Performance?

Often we can get caught up in judging ourselves, other people or situations

Are you guilty of being too judgmental? When considering how and when we form judgements some people do this more than others and often without realising.

For example, in life judging other people – “did you see what Jonny did last week, he decided to uproot and take his family to Japan.  It’s a crazy decision, they’ll never learn the language or be happy.”

In football judging ourselves, “I can’t believe I made that stupid mistake, passing the ball back to the goalkeeper so softly, I’m rubbish.”

In golf judging a situation, “Not this shot again, last week I hit it left out of bounds.  It’s such a tough shot with that wind coming off the right.” 

In cricket judging a situation, “I always seem to start my innings slowly, I’ve got to make sure I don’t give my wicket away cheaply, especially when playing against Yorkshire.”

These are perfectly natural things to do as a human being, it is the way our brains are wired however by forming these types of judgements and following them up with critical labelling, it can be detrimental to our performances and our mental health.

How do I stop forming judgements that interfere with my performance?

When meditating, it is recommended that you go in with the judgement from the outset that your mind is fundamentally healthy and balanced; innately, that your mind has strength, that it can be flexible, it can offer love, it can be empathetic, kind and caring. 

For those who do meditate or have meditated in the past, you’ll know that when you are new to the practice, you are distracted, stressed or tired that your mind can wander more frequently.  You’ll also be aware that it is easy to then make judgements that I cannot meditate, I am hopeless at meditating.  People who are skilled at meditation however are very good at recognising these thoughts or judgements and are aware that any thoughts that they have are not permanent, that they change frequently.   A helpful way to view such thoughts or any thoughts for that matter when you meditate, is like watching clouds in the sky drift and move, get bigger and small, break up and disappear.

Approaching meditation, life and sport with confidence, throwing away past experiences or future expectations and going with the attitude that your mind is healthy is the way forward for successful performances and optimal mental health.

Let’s consider you are in a pressurised situation in your sport, say you are taking a crucial penalty kick for your team in a penalty shoot out to progress through to the final.  However, you missed a penalty in the previous league match that your team went in to lose 1 nil.  It would be very easy to approach this situation, from a place of dread saying things like, “I need to calm down”, “let’s get this over with quickly.”  A mind that is used to meditation would look at this very differently, with a clear perspective, forming no judgements about whether you are a good or bad penalty taker, whether you feel nervous or worried.  It would go with a healthy mindset, with an openness to experience whatever is thrown at it.

When playing golf, by thinking that your mind is normal and healthy you are unlikely to get sucked into a negative state of mind, and allow your thoughts to create tension, doubt and uncertainty which can then result in a negative momentum shift, and bogey’s on your card!

Right now, if you were reading this article standing on the 10th tee box it is a fact that RIGHT NOW you cannot play the next 9 holes.  You can only go on to approach the next shot.  So whether you are 3 under or 3 over on the 10th tee, avoid the overly negative or confident approach.  Take it for what it is.  A moment in time when you can go with the “healthy mind” approach.  That you can be ready when you take that next shot, much like young birds getting ready to fly for the first time.  Genetically, the bird is predisposed to flying, you could take that approach to your next shot.  That your body is designed to move the golf ball.

Meditators have known for centuries that our minds are pliable and can be neutral.  It has 2 basic modes that it operates in and receives experiences which go on to impact on how we feel.  

1.The external world

This is our outside environment, which we can take in through our senses.  Through what we see, what we touch, what we taste, what we smell and what we hear.   Those feelings then get absorbed into the mind.

2. Our internal world

This is our view of what we think is happening to us, this can come from the outside world however the important part is “what we think is happening”, this is mental consciousness.

As our body does, without any direction, our mind absorbs things that occur in the environment.  For example, if when playing cricket a batsman is sledged by a wicket keeper, whatever was communicated is absorbed.  If they are personal and the batsmen experiences them as painful, he or she is likely to respond aggressively.  Yet, if your mind is flexible, it is possible to feel sorry for the other person, to ignore them or respond back in a kind manner.  Perhaps telling them that they are welcome with a wink! 😊 

On the other side if a wicket keeper or bowler tries to get into your head and tells you how great you are or how impressed they are at your technique.  This information too is absorbed.  If you like what they say you may smile and say “thank you”.  On the other hand, you may feel a sense of paranoia or feel scared because you know they are up to mind games and dirty tricks.  These would be elements coming from outside. 

Examples, of our internal world and habits that we absorb include when we are a substitute.  I’ll go with the rugby player for instance who is sat on the bench watching the game.  He or she may be sitting waiting for the opportunity to get on the field, yet is completely oblivious to what is going on in the match or the scoreline.  Why? You may have been guilty of being by yourself and switching off, absorbed by your thoughts.  Perhaps you may be excited to get the opportunity to get on to the field of play.  Or the opposite, you may be dreading going on and worried about how you will perform.  In these cases, the external environment had little to do with how you felt, your experience was dictated by the thoughts generated by your mind.

I hope you can now see the power of your thoughts, the power of specific thoughts and how powerful it is to be non-judgmental and reduce the number of your thoughts. 

In a nutshell, meditation is about being clearly aware of the power of your mind.  Being aware of what your mind experiences and how you go on to feel.  Additionally, the power of your thoughts and being able to observe how engaged and disengaged your mind can get is a part of meditation. 

Why would you meditate?

An example of someone who has used meditation to improve his performance is Phil Mickelson, who has recently won golf’s second major of the 2021  season, the US PGA Championship.

In golf digest magazine, Phil claimed 

“I’m working on it,” Mickelson said Friday. “I’m making more and more progress just by trying to elongate my focus. I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much. I might try to elongate the time that I end up mediating.  I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.”

Jonni Pollard, the found of the app Giant Mind argues that “almost every golfer has to negotiate the chasm between the shots he’s capable of producing, and the those he actually hits. We’re too quick, we’re too distracted, we’re worried about the pond on the left—when the result falls short of our potential, it often emanates from somewhere between the ears. By contrast think about the time you mindlessly hit a shot on the range and it soars perfectly off the clubface; or when you rake in a conceded putt from afar without even trying, and it rolls straight into the hole. It’s precisely because you “weren’t thinking” that it worked out so well.”

This, Pollard said, this is where meditation can make a difference.  

So I’d encourage you to be open to trying meditation the benefits are huge where you can:

  1. Improve your focus.
  2. Get better at staying in the moment.
  3. Reduce negative emotions.
  4. Improve your imagination and creativity.
  5. Increase your patience and tolerance in different situations.
  6. See things from different perspectives.
  7. Manage pressure better.

If you’d like some support to add meditation into your daily routines and integrate into your sport please do get in touch, it’s an area I am very familiar with and find fascinating.

You may also wish to sign up to the Mental Edge and receive regular tips to your inbox to help improve your performance levels.

David Charlton Sports Psychologist

Best Wishes 

David Charlton

Global Sports Psychologist who is located near Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK and willing to travel Internationally.  David also uses online video conferencing software (Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp) on a regular basis and has clients who he has supported in USA, Canada, South America, UAE, Australian and New Zealand.  

Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence and Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub.  With over 10 years experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to achieve their goals, quickly. 

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

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