Why mindfulness matters for young athletes

Why mindfulness matters for young athletes

‘Mindfulness’ is one of those health and wellbeing buzzwords that seems to be everywhere you look right now. It hit my radar about five years ago, and ever since, I’ve been doing what I can to include it in my life, and the lives of my young athletes, even in small ways. And I’ve noticed a real difference… in a good way!

But don’t just take my word for it. The great thing about mindfulness (which simply means being in the present while accepting things for what they are without judgement) is that there’s a whole lot of science to back up the hype that’s developed around it – and particularly for athletes.

The list of scientifically proven benefits that mindfulness can deliver for athletes is long, but it includes things like the fact that those who ‘use it’ regularly:

  • have superior sport-related coping skills, less sport-related anxiety and find it easier to get and stay ‘in the zone’, all of which have been shown to improve athletic performance.
  • are better able to fall and stay asleep, following night-time training sessions.
  • have higher pain tolerance and awareness, both of which are useful during the rehabilitation process post injury.

Mindfulness also provides general health and wellbeing benefits, too. Research shows that when you make the effort to practise mindfulness regularly, over time, a range of healthy things can happen, including:

  • feeling happier, less stressed and more resilient;
  • being less forgetful and better at making decisions;
  • and a stronger understanding of your personality and why you react the way you do to certain things.

On top of all those health perks, the thing I really like about mindfulness is that it doesn’t have to be a time-consuming pursuit, either. And you don’t need to attend a class or pay for the privilege. In fact, sometimes all you need is just a minute or two.

Here are three mindfulness techniques that are a good place to start if you’re new to the mindfulness world. They’re all really simple to do and you only need 10 minutes max, if you or your young athlete wants to try them on for size.

The 1-minute breathing technique

  • Set your phone’s timer to one full minute.
  • Push start and, as soon as you do, give your full attention to your breathing and nothing else, focussing on each breath in and each breath out.
  • If your mind starts to wander, don’t panic – simply redirect it back to the rise and fall of your breaths.

The 5-minute mindfulness shower

  • Be mindful of turning the taps on, adjusting the water to the right temperature, and what the water sounds like as it hits the floor.
  • When you step into the shower, notice how it feels when the water first hits your skin and where it lands first, where it lands next, and so on.
  • Pay attention to how the soap and shampoo smell and feel as you use them.
  • Observe how the bathroom air changes the longer you stay in the shower.
  • Notice if your mind starts jumping ahead to things like what you’ll have for breakfast or today’s to-do list and mindfully bring your thoughts back to the present instead.
  • Finish your mindfulness shower by noticing the sound of the water coming to a stop when you turn the tap off.

The 10-minute mindfulness walk

  • Pull your walking shoes on and head outdoors. Choose a route that you know will only take you 10 minutes or so to walk, and make sure you leave your phone at home or at work to avoid the temptation to look at it or listen to something while you walk. (Bear in mind you can take a mindfulness walk that’s longer than 10 minutes too!)
  • As soon as you start walking, make the effort to be in the moment by paying attention to things like the feel of the ground beneath your feet, how you’re breathing and what elements like fresh air and sunshine, feel like on your skin.
  • Make the effort to notice and observe whatever you can see around you, staying in the present as you do, rather than thinking about past or future events. If your mind does wander to things other than what’s happening in the moment, notice it’s happening and bring your focus back to the present.
  • Finish your mindfulness walk by noticing how your feet feel when you remove your walking shoes, after you’ve returned to your starting point.

In my travels into mindfulness, I’ve discovered that it’s considered good practice to try and incorporate it on a daily basis in order to get the most benefit from it. So, which one of these techniques will you try today?