In the hours prior to competing there are many things athletes experience prior to taking the floor. Hair, make up, practice, stretching, supporting other teams all can take place prior to warm ups. Add in the bright lights of the venue, the other competitors and drive to compete all of which can add to the excitement, anticipation and stress of the competition. One trend that many teams used this season was coloring prior to competing. Coloring pages, a mindfulness activity, has been proven to be a successful technique to calm, reduce stress and increase performance in athletes.
Mindfulness techniques have been made more popular in recent decades. Being aware, focused and present in the current moment are methods to eliminate stress and worry. Mindfulness is described as paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness is not a time to “zone out” or “space out” but is rather a time to purposefully pay attention and be aware of your surroundings, your emotions, your thoughts, and how your body feels.
The Mental Game
Many athletes stress over their athletic performance, outcome of an event and possible the reaction of others. Some stress can challenge athletes, when faced with stress your body either wants to fight or flee the situation, this depends on the individual and the situation. For some athletes stress kicks in the fight, allowing them to push and achieve while others face adverse effects from stress. Physical effects of stress can cause an increased the heart rate, rapid breathing, muscles tightening and lack of sleep. Memory issues and cognitive processing can be affected causing performance mistakes that can create a vicious cycle increasing more stress.
Mindfulness techniques are tools that coaches can use to relax and eliminate stress in their athletes. By coaching your athlete’s mind as well as their physical ability you are increasing their overall performance. Mindfulness allows athletes to focus on the present, letting go of the past and any worries about the future. The letting go of these thoughts and worries will help the athletes to accept things as they are and gain control their mind and thoughts.
To strengthen the mind body connection, there are a variety of techniques coaches can use to mentally prepare their athletes.
Coloring – This season there was an increase in the use of coloring prior to competition. Coloring allows the athlete to be in the present moment, focusing their energy on the present situation, lowering the physical reactions to stress. Coloring provides a calming effect and can be easily incorporated during the wait time at competitions. Any coloring book or pages can be used, it is the practice of coloring that calms the athlete.
Coaches can incorporate coloring as part of pre competition activities as a way to relax athletes and focus their attention on the moment. Outside of competition, gyms could provide coloring activities for athletes who are not focused, overwhelmed, or experiencing mental blocks in order to bring their attention back to the moment.
Mindful Breathing – Focusing on breathing and increasing the oxygen intake relaxes tense muscles and calms the heart rate. Learning how to control breathing empowers the athlete to eliminate stress when they begin to feel the physical effects of stress. Mindful breathing techniques are a form of meditation, allowing for a calming effect.
Have your athletes sit comfortably, with eyes closed, allowing them to start breathing deep. Inhaling fully and exhaling completely, focusing on their breath entering and exiting their body.
This can be incorporated into practice when athletes are stressed allowing them to gain control over their emotions. Taking a few moments to regain control through mindful breathing will assist the athlete in letting go of the past or expectations they may place upon themselves. Mindful breathing can also assist athletes during the course of the routine, allowing them to control their heart rate during each section.
Positive – Non Judgmental Thoughts – As much as you try to encourage and motivate your athletes, they still may have negative thoughts or self-impressions. To build the confidence of your athletes, you may have to identify and change their negative self-thoughts. Have your athletes pay attention to what they are telling themselves. You can identify when this occurs at practice or have them write down these thoughts in a notebook. When they do experience these thoughts, allow them to recognize thoughts as distractions that run through their mind. After they identify the thought make sure they don’t judge the thoughts, just acknowledge these thoughts and let them go. The process of letting these thoughts go removes the athletes focus on these thoughts. Replace these thoughts with positive thoughts encouraging them in areas of strength rather than worrying about the negative. This mindfulness activity works best with those athletes whose negative, judgmental thoughts interfere with their physical performance.
Body Scan – The practice of body scan and awareness will release tension by relaxing the muscles. This process will quiet the mind allowing for relaxation. Times when athletes get so stressed that their body begins to tighten, the technique will assist in letting go of the stress. This can be incorporated at practice or at competition, begin with your athletes closing their eyes and lying down. Starting at their feet and working up to their shoulders focusing their attention to muscle groups while using breathing to relax and calm. Have the athletes breathe into any areas where they are holding stress and try to release it. Body scan technique can empower athletes in understanding where they hold their stress and how to relax muscles to release the stress.
Yoga – Yoga combines breath and dynamic movements to stretch and relax muscle groups while calming the mind. The most important part of yoga is the breathing. The breathing combined with the dynamic movement warm the muscles allowing for increased flexibility and relaxation of muscle groups. Yoga techniques can easily be incorporated into practices and warm ups for the team allowing each athlete to calm, relax to release any tension.
Visualization – Incorporating visualization techniques will empower the athletes to work through and stress or anxiety in their routines. Visualization is a powerful tool that allows the athlete to visualize the executing the routine as well as the proper technique for each element. This can be incorporated at any point in the season when the team needs to focus on elements and gain confidence in the execution of elements. Begin with calming breathing, having each athlete use mindful breathing. Then proceed to the visualization of the routine maintaining the calm breathing throughout all parts and sections.
Each mindfulness technique will allow the athletes to strengthen the mind body connection further preparing them for competition. Incorporating any of these techniques into the regular routine of the athletes will assist them in each performance, empowering them to control their thoughts, be in the moment and focused on their athletic endeavors.