As athletes, we train harder than most people will ever realize. We train our BODY and we train the CRAFT of our sport, but far too often athletes don't prioritize training the MIND. When times get tough, being mentally prepared can give us that extra edge over the competition. A person can only truly train 3 things, yet it’s only been within the past decade that elite athletes have begun to take mental preparation seriously. Over the next 10 years, we will see an emphasis on self-awareness, mental preparation, meditation and visualization in sports that we have never seen before, guaranteed!
Growing up as an elite hockey player, I remember laughing when one of my best coaches told me that I needed to begin a mental preparation routine before games. If I would have listened, I probably would have been able to boast better numbers, but I didn’t. Later on, another coach offered me a CD to listen to, morning and night. He told me it would help me stay calm and look forward with better positivity for the games to come. Little did I know, I had begun meditating, practicing positive affirmations and visualizing key scenarios before I even knew what it all meant. Shortly after, my enraged outbursts and mental breakdowns slowed…then later came to a complete halt. My sport became fun again, and the worry of the scouts in the stands, people’s opinions or any doubt I may have had all slowly faded.
It doesn’t matter what sport you play or at what level, ANY athlete can benefit from taking 20 minutes to meditate every day, and 20 minutes a few hours pre-game to visualize and reinforce positive self-talk. Although sports psychology has been around for some time, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the many mental health benefits and the depth of self-awareness an athlete can gather from daily meditation. Here are some examples:
- Focus without Stress and Anxiety: Meditation has been shown to increase states of focus within the brain. Many forms of meditation are focused on your breathing, and when you begin to notice yourself becoming distracted, you bring your focus back to the breath. Every athlete, no matter what sport you are playing, can work on improving focus. Especially in an age of distractions--improving your focus will improve your overall quality of life. In addition to improving focus, meditation has been shown in studies to reduce rumination, ie. when you replay negative events on a loop in your head. For a goaltender, it may be letting in a goal; for a basketball player, it may be missing a pivotal free throw. Either way, meditation allows us to refocus and re-shift back into a balanced state of mind.
- Reduction of Fear: The part of your brain responsible for eliciting fear is called the amygdala. In 2012, Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., currently an instructor at Harvard Medical School and part of the research staff at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a multisite investigation of meditation and mind-body health in collaboration with the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Boston University, Emory University, and the University of Arizona. Studying the effects of mindful-attention meditation training on amygdala response, the study showed mindful-attention training helped to calm that center of the brain, EVEN when participants were not meditating! Fear controls people and often is the reason why athletes stop themselves short of greatness.
- Improved Sleep: The best athletes in the world are sleeping 8-12 hours per day. Yes, Lebron James and Roger Federer can afford to sleep while the rest of us mortals work or study. However, meditation will help you fall asleep, stay asleep and even improve the quality of your sleep. If you can cultivate the habit of shutting your phone off 20 minutes before you hit the hay versus mindlessly scrolling through memes until 2 in the morning, this can add a whole new element of energy and clarity to your sport and/or life.
- Deepened Self-Awareness: One of the difficult things with being an athlete is that you need the utmost confidence in yourself in order to stay mentally strong. You’ll see this often with fighters, albeit it can come across as arrogance or cockiness, it’s the edge they need in order to step in the ring with another person trying to physically hurt them. However, knowing that we have flaws that we need to work on is not only one of the most difficult things to admit to ourselves (especially for the male ego) but essential for growth as an athlete and a person. Coaches allow us to see the areas in our game that need work, but meditation can help deepen our own personal self-awareness. The better you know yourself, what you love, and what makes you love waking up each morning, the better you can immerse your true personality into your craft. Dressing rooms can be difficult places. People begin to act differently and try to portray an image of a person they may not actually be. Knowing YOU and being confident and happy just being you is the most powerful skill anyone can carry.
How are you incorporating mindfulness into your game day routine? Look up some affirmations for your sport, visualization techniques, and meditation techniques for athletes…you will be pleasantly surprised!
Denon Maximchuk is a Personal Fitness Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Performance Exercise Specialist living in Vancouver, Canada. Starting as a pro hockey player and now a high-performance trainer and sports nutrition specialist, Denon has spent years learning from coaches and mentors the powerful benefits of committing time toward not only the physical game but the mental game. From the juniors to the pros, ALL of Denon's clients that work in high-stress situations have experienced the benefits of working with sports physiologists and mental coaches to calm the mind. Because of his passion for bio-hacking the body and mind, Denon's goal is to preach positive body image and mental health through self-awareness, as well as the importance of personal happiness in one's life. To learn more about Denon, check him out at @denonmaximchuk.
All photography courtesy of Alexander James Sutton. Alex is a photographer also based in Vancouver. He discovered his passion for photography at age 17, spending hours hiking through the wilderness, shooting landscapes and the lush West Coast terrain. He found that he not only had an eye for the shot, but that photography acted as a means of relaxation and oneness with himself. With school, work, and stresses of life, Alex realized the similarities between the calming sensation of photography, practicing meditation and breathing techniques. He now shoots more product and people focused shots, but still finds time to treat himself to the wonders of nature as often as possible. Check out more of his beautiful work at @thinkcreateexplore.