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Mindfulness and Compassion in Sport

by Alison Laycock

“To be a mindful athlete, you start by being a mindful person and they work together” George Mumford

Come into the present moment: When we breathe, we come into the present moment as we can’t breathe in the past or in the future. By being in the present, we focus on what is happening now, right now in this moment and we let go of anything else we don’t need to deal with outside of this moment. This allows us to focus on what is important right now without worrying about any other moment.

We can notice what we are paying attention to which could be other players, the whistle, the supporters and other sounds we can block out. Once aware of our minds wandering, we have the choice to bring our mind back to what we wish to pay attention to and do so kindly rather than in a negative manner. By staying connected with the present moment, we can prevent our minds from going to the thoughts of previous errors or jump ahead to future outcomes like a missed goal or injury. Through slowing down with the breath, we are able to see what is the best decision to take within the space we have created.

‘Being in the Zone’ or ‘Flow’ is enhanced by the regular practice of being in the present moment, whether on or off the pitch and this has been linked to improved performance.

Beginner’s Mind: Bringing a Beginner’s mind to our lives means we can look at events as if for the first time no matter how many times we have done the same thing. A new match is a new match and therefore can be seen as such and prepared for in this way too. With this in mind, we acknowledge that we don’t need to take previous mistakes/ experiences into the next match. We can start with a clean slate.

Self-awareness: Through practising Mindfulness, our self-awareness increases and improves as we are able to notice more about ourselves, our reactions and others in our lives. It allows us to see what we need to do and how we need to behave if we want to be, do, play better. We see the real us which can be difficult at times and through bringing kindness or a gentleness to that, we can learn to acknowledge and accept our whole authentic selves. This encourages us to see how we bring our own uniqueness to all that we do and that is valuable as we can’t be anyone else. Through being ok with all of ourselves, we will always perform better in all aspects of our life. Being self-aware also helps us to see what we can learn and change rather than simply seeing something as a mistake and being critical of ourselves. This also encourages us to compete against your previous best self not against the competition from the other team/ person as you realise that your growth matters more than any comparison.

Mental chatter: This can be in terms of telling ourselves stories, negative/positive self-talk and also getting caught up in our thoughts. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the story you’re telling yourself, see how it is affecting you and noticing it rather than identifying with it so you can observe it with distance. If you experience anger for example, you can ask yourself is that how I want to be? And if not then you can ask what do I need to do to change it? We can give ourselves space from the chatter to hear the truth of what is happening rather than seeing it how we want to or telling stories around it. This is an important technique as mental chatter can make it difficult to maintain perspective and focus and if we become too stressed about our performance or in general then we can’t make good decisions, solve problems or stay composed. Negative self-talk can impact our stress and anxiety levels and may make us fear failure far too much so we need to be able to resist internal/ external distractions such as anxiety, fear, a loud crowd or even a distracting teammate, so we can make good decisions in the moment. As well as paying attention to internal chatter, also notice and listen to how we talk about ourselves, our performance and our aims when we are speaking with others and what we are listening to from others who impact our lives. Taking time to notice allows us to make decisions about who we want to influence us and we may need to make the choice to not accept how some people are talking to or about us.

Body Scan: This can help release tension, quiet the mind and bring awareness to the body. In developing heightened awareness of the body and improve communication between the body and the mind, it helps us sense physiological changes like a tense muscle or shallow breathing and make a split second adjustment even before we’re consciously aware of what’s going on and before they have a greater impact on our performance. A body scan allows us to work our way through the body to see how it feels and bring an acceptance to all, kindness and non-judging which is essential during times of injury and encourages recovery quicker than resistance or self-blaming or blaming others for the injury.

Visualisation: This is a technique to visualise how great our performance will be in every way whether it is in the next moment or a future event. We can also remember a previous positive performance/ experience and play that through the mind rather than ruminating on a negative experience. There are more techniques and practices we will discuss on the course.

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