By: Mitresh Pant and Arambh Shah
A sport is mostly seen to be played by the body but often it is the mind that we don't address. To reach the optimal state of performance harmony between the body and the mind is imperative. Irrelevant thoughts of self-doubt can cloud the judgment and focus on the performer leading to an unsatisfactory outcome. In the recent years, the importance of improving the mental health of the athletes has given dramatic results in terms of performance of the players.
Focus can be a key factor that distinguishes a good athlete from an exceptional one. The type of focus where the athlete is so engrossed in the activity that anything but the end goal vanishes. This optimal state of consciousness is often referred to as the flow state. Apart from being assisted by a sports psychologist, this is one of the reasons that meditation is the best mental training strategy for athletes.
When under a stressful situation, such as taking a game winning shot in a championship final. An athlete that lacks the mental assets will fluster and have high stress response. There is an increase in self-doubt and the athlete becomes self-conscious, this leads to the physiological arousal to increase. Which in turn causes the athlete lose the ability to perform the actions that were previously mastered, with a lot of conscious effort. This phenomenon is termed as choking in sports. Meditation has been proven to reduce the instances of choking and underperforming under high pressure situations.
Similar to how different types of exercises strengthen different parts of the body, different forms of meditation strengthen different parts of the brain. Meditation despite having several other benefits, serves as a major tool to condition the mind to be in the present moment. Meditation can be regarded as a meta skill that improves everything else.
Most elite athletes have been known to have some sort of meditation involved in their schedule. Related to a sport, it can have several benefits, such as –
Improves selective attention - Selective attention refers to the ability that helps to gauge out unnecessary information while focusing on the task at hand. This can be very helpful for an athlete during game-winning situations.
Lowering stress response - Meditation can help athletes perform under high pressure situations. The feeling of anxiety before a game winning moment is very common in athletes. Meditation also reduces the amygdala activity (as amygdala is related to the feelings of stress and anxiety) in response to stresses and challenges.
Lowers attentional blink - Attentional blinks at the moments of short pauses that the mind takes the scanner surroundings. This is important because it is a measure of our ability to not get caught up in one thing at the expense of everything else enter remain fully emerged in the present moment.
Quiets down the internal chatter - We experience constant thoughts at rest, which can be detrimental to the performance and attention. This brain activity is referred to as the default mode network. Through meditation an athlete can quiet down the default mode network and enter a state of mental calmness.
The practice of meditation is used by many of the world's best performers, such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in the NBA and football greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite having the best of the best physical skills and assets, these athletes have been known for their ability to perform under the most stressful situations.
The practice of meditation can offer a small edge in a sport and in real life situations too.