Mindfulness and Pro Sports

Mindfulness helps us become more observant, less reactive, and more aware to all the stimuli (internal-perspectives, beliefs, values, and memories and external-sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, bodily functions) that can impact our behavior in the present moment. To gain empowerment through awareness of all these aspects in the present moment is key, otherwise we continue to run on autopilot and feel out of control.

I’m passing on a couple of  great articles highlighting the importance of sport psych’s role in professional athletic performance. As you can see in my previous posts (my blog and Facebook) that I strongly require recommend my athletes to learn, practice, and utilize mindfulness skills on a daily basis. I have been teaching mindfulness skills (primarily from DBT and MBSR modality in a clinical setting) for approximately 5 years. However, I am super thrilled to see that mainstream media is publishing more sport articles highlighting the application of sport psychology skills and specifically, mindfulness/meditation in professional sports. I believe that the stigma of accessing psychology services and “being crazy” is lessening in part due to these articles. The sport psych services that I deliver are solely focused on providing the “tools” and support so that the athlete can tap into their best performance in any given moment, in sport and life. This takes time, training, patience, and practice. It is something that is not learned over night, however it’s benefits are life lasting. It pleases me even more that the athletes I work with are getting same top notch skills training that pro-athletes are. If you want to explore mindfulness in your life and sport feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

Below are a few recent articles illustrating the application of sport psychology concepts and mindfulness in sport. I encourage you to read them. However, I pulled a few sections that help summarize the point.  The first article is quite interesting in that it comes with a video and captures (and transcribes) the pro-tennis player in the midst of his negative self talk but he goes on to win the match. I’ve seen this scenario happen many times, an athlete doubts themselves but then goes on to have a great performance. This goes back to my “Feelings Are Not Facts” post and furthermore, “thoughts are not facts” either, our body knows what to do if we allow it.

There is great value in the concept of mindfulness, and not only in sports. In the past 20 years, the field of psychotherapy has followed Gallwey’s lead. Newer treatments such as mindfulness-based therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy are premised on the notion that patients, like players, are sometimes helped by entering a zone “beyond talk.” When patients’ emotions become overwhelming, they are urged to “perform” survival skills by focusing on the present moment—using relaxation, a focus on bodily sensations, and acceptance of external reality as ways to endure great distress without resorting to self-harm. When they do have negative thoughts, they are taught to simply observe them and then let them go. The idea is that the emotional impact of thinking and observing yourself thinking are different—that “I am a screw-up” is likely to cause more suffering than “I am having the thought that I am a screw-up.”

We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special,” Wilson says. “We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed….Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Okung says. “It’s about quieting your mind and getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment. There are so many things telling you that you can’t do something, but you take those thoughts captive, take power over them and change them.”

Mindfulness” is a capacity for heightened present-moment awareness that we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Training this capacity seems to have a quieting effect on brain areas associated with our subjective appraisal of our self. By considering thoughts and feelings as transitory mental events that occur, but are separate from the self, people are able to lessen their hold on their worries and positive mental health outcomes follow.

Great diagram illustrating that mindfulness allows us to be a witness to our experience without reacting thus giving us the power to make a better decision (if needed) in the present moment.

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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.

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