As with other sports and high-energy activities, basketball requires a high amount of focus on things that take place in very short amounts of time. Decisions have to be made left and right, and the flow of the game is rarely interrupted. That kind of demand for attention can tire out the mind pretty quickly if it’s not exercised the same way as your muscles. Mindfulness is the habit of noticing and understanding our thoughts, feelings, and emotions in real-time. It requires paying deep attention to what is occurring in the present, as opposed to allowing yourself to worry about the past or analyzing what’s to come. Further, it’s accepting the present as it is without trying to force it into a mold of what you think it “should” be -- accepting each moment as it comes and embracing what that means to you.
Some of the world’s top athletes use mindfulness as a practice for strengthening mental focus so that they can perform their best in-game. Countless studies have taken the time to discover the connections between mindfulness practice or meditation and heightened awareness and performance in athletes. The benefits especially show themselves in high pressure situations.
“Meditation is not trying to go anywhere or do anything, meditation and being present is just seeing what’s there and letting it speak to you,” said George Mumford, meditation coach for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and more. “You start talking to them about how the mind-body interacts, you start talking to them about how you can slow time down when you create space between stimulus and response -- then three seconds is an eternity.”
Meditating can give athletes the ability to become hyper-aware of their surroundings in real-time, if practiced routinely over time. Focusing the mind’s energy on interpreting what is happening at present can be fairly hard to get right or understand immediately, but once someone can interpret the present in the real world, keeping the mind clear for rapid-fire decisions becomes more organized and efficient. Off the court, meditating can make the ability to find clarity in your thinking much easier, as your thoughts and reactions will begin to make more sense as they happen. It’s something someone can practice in their everyday life, which allows it to become more of a mindset than a practice.
Researchers have worked to prove connections between meditating and athletes’ performances in basketball and have found multiple inherent benefits involved. Since sports in general can be pretty high stress activities, finding ways to control or reduce it is super important to the athlete’s health. One study concluded that the impact of meditation is associated with lower stress levels in addition to reduced levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Being grounded, relaxed, and centered increases your ability to focus, concentrate, and clear your mind while under pressure. By consistently practicing meditation, your body can learn how to balance being relaxed in stressful situations by eliminating distractions and focusing only on the game itself.
It’s also been proven that enough sleep is crucial for every human to function at peak performance, especially athletes. Lack of sleep can bring on a lot of negative effects like easier weight gain, mood swings and irritability, heightened anxiety or depression, an inability to focus, and more. It’s common for athletes to be busy and thus struggle to find the right time to sleep, but practicing meditation can help the body recover quickly from training, heavy practice schedules, or even injury. It can provide the body with some of the same processes that sleep would normally handle. Meditating can also boost your body’s ability to grow during rest from training or playing, and boost the immune system to prevent illness that can get in the way.
One of the more popular reasons athletes have begun to include meditation in their regular practice regimen is how it affects endurance. Mindfulness meditation can help enhance athletic endurance and longevity, centering your body in such a way that speeds up recovery times and can help it focus energy in demanding situations. The proper breathing that comes with practicing meditation can translate to athletic breathing habits and help the body get into its own rhythm better.
Athletes who meditate can also overcome some of the more common “blind spots” that tend to make performance challenges seem worse than they actually are. They’re able to switch off a certain part of their brain that isn’t necessary during games or activities. Doing so allows some athletes to activate their subconscious and enter their own flow state zone. This is called transient hypofrontality, where a person shuts down the inner critic and ego to avoid distractions and center their vision and attention on the task at hand. Some athletes claim that entering this
mode makes time feel like it slows down as the tasks and small check-offs fly by.
Meditation and mindfulness may be difficult to understand at first, but putting them into constant practice can help anyone be better at what they do, including athletes. Focusing mental energy is an important part of anyone’s game, so it’s crucial to exercise your brain in a way that allows it to focus when it’s necessary.
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