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Why Meditation Is The Secret To Athletic Success

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Success as an athlete comes in many different forms and is the result of a multitude of skills. Depending on the sport you play, the talents necessary for success will vary.

To gain all the different talents and skills required, athletes employ all kinds of training tools and techniques. Each one tailored to their specific needs based on sport and position.

Though there is one tool that, no matter the sport you play, is going to have a profound impact on your chances of attaining success.

The tool I am referring to is meditation. The sooner you begin a mediation practice as an athlete, the sooner you will experience, firsthand, all the benefits it has to offer.

Slow But Steady Start

There has always been an attraction between me and meditation. Ever since learning of the practice, there seemed to be a force pulling me towards it. Though, that doesn’t mean it was easy for me to stick to a routine.

I think there are many athletes who set their minds to beginning a meditation practice, only to quit after realizing the often uncomfortable nature of the act. 

When sitting down to meditate, eyes closed, you welcome in all sorts of strange and negative thoughts. Without the proper understanding that these thoughts are necessary for your growth, it can feel as if you’re doing more harm than good.

That’s exactly what happened to me in the beginning. 

After starting my meditation practice, I was quick to stop after a short stent. The reason being the intense negative thoughts that filled my head. 

I’ve always struggled with low confidence, anxiety, and extreme negative self-talk. All this seemed to be amplified when meditating. 

The same difficulties have been expressed to me by others when they first began a practice.

The reason I feel it’s important to address this before diving into the benefits of meditation on athletic performance is to help curb the desire you will inevitably have to quit. 

What helped me through this initial bout of constant negative thoughts was the realization that my brain was simply working through these thoughts and feelings. 

As I’ve grown in my practice, less and less has this occurred. My mind has worked through my past baggage because I allowed it to do so. 

So, what I am encouraging you to do is stick with it. Don’t give up at the first fearful thought that enters your mind.

Understand it’s all part of the process. If you persevere through, you can expect all the benefits I’m about to outline and watch as they lead you down the path to athletic success. 

Benefits Of Meditation for Athletes

The type of meditation I am linking to these benefits is mindfulness meditation. It’s the simplest for athletes to begin practicing and is one of the most widely researched in its effects of athletic performance.

It’s the form of meditation I use and have my clients use as well, resulting in first-hand experience of the powers the practice can have. 

If you’re ready to take on a mindfulness meditation practice of your own, here are some of the major ways it will positively impact your athletic performance.

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Reduced Anxiety

A huge hindrance to athletic success is anxiety. Racing thoughts and unsettling feelings all centered around the worry of what may happen. 

If you’ve experience anxiety before, I don’t need to tell you how devastating of a situation it is to find yourself in. 

This dread and worry lead to self-doubt, fear, and keep you from performing freely and naturally. Both of which are necessary for your success. 

Meditation serves to reduce the racing and uncontrollable thoughts which perpetuate anxiety. 

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of centering your attention in the present moment. Anxiety lives in the future. It is not a byproduct of present moment awareness. You are worried about what may happen. That possibility is somewhere in the future. 

By training yourself to be present, focused in the now, anxiety begins to fade away. During a game, when your mind is typically full of unhelpful anxious thoughts, you can use the skill of mindfulness gained through meditation to recenter your focus. 

The more you can hold concentration in the here and now, the less your mind with drift into the future where anxiety lies waiting. 

Improved Focus

One of my favorite ways to express mindfulness meditation to athletes (especially those who don’t find much appeal in the idea of meditation) is that it is simply focus training.

Now, there is a much deeper level within meditation. However, when addressing it in an athletic sense, by training mindfulness through a meditation practice, you are in fact training your ability to hold attention.

During a performance, distractions are abundant. From future oriented thoughts as we addressed in the section on anxiety, to the other team and fans watching the game. 

All these prey on your ability to focus and serve as a way to distract you from the task at hand. By allowing your attention to waver, you will not be as fully present. Any athlete knows poor focus leads to lower levels of play.

Through meditation, you gain mastery over your focus. In moments where you typically find your mind unable to be controlled, you will now have the power to dictate where you place your attention.

By centering your focus more on what you’re doing, your performances will be done with much more ease and the effort you put forth will be completely directed to the goal you are seeking to accomplish. 

Reduced Reactivity

One of the greatest skills any athlete can master is being non-reactive. 

When I say reactive, I’m referring to emotional reactivity. If allowed to run free, emotions will serve as your downfall during a performance. 

I’m sure you know of players who are at the mercy of their emotions. Every little mistake, remark made by the other team, or bad call from an official result in them losing their temper and reacting in a compulsive way.

But what is your goal during a game?

It should ultimately be to perform the best you can. This, truth be told, has absolutely nothing to do with any opponent, official, or anyone else.

By allowing yourself to be reactive, you are handing over a power to someone else. 

However, meditation allows you to reclaim that power.

Through mindfulness, no longer does emotional reactivity hinder your success. You gain the ability to merely observe the situation, choosing objectively how you wish to respond. 

It’s a remarkable skill, that when developed, you realize the tremendous power it places in your hands.

Final Thoughts

Meditation is a tool no athlete should go without. Particularly mindfulness meditation, which provides you with the ability to gain mastery over your attention and learn to stay present. 

With anxiety living in the future, centering your awareness in the now serves as a perfect remedy for the anxious thoughts getting in the way of you performing your best. 

Distractions will no longer impact you as much as your ability to focus gets stronger, along with the reduction in emotional reactivity which drains your energy.

With these benefits and more, the only question that remains is: are you ready to start a meditation practice for yourself?

Eli Straw is the founder of Success Starts Within and has an M.S. in psychology. Eli's goal is to provide valuable performance psychology information to the public, and help individuals optimize their lives. If you would like to read more articles written by Eli, you can view them here. You can follow Eli on Twitter at @straw_eli. If you would like to learn more about how you can benefit from mental performance coaching, feel free to email Eli at elistraw@successstartswithin.com.

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