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3 mindfulness secrets of star athletes

Mindfulness for athletes

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Its no secret anymore that the world’s best athletes are now using mindfulness to help them stay on top of their game. Phil Jackson, one of the most successful basketball coaches in the history of the game, with 11 NBA championships under his belt, teaches mindfulness to his teams as part of their training. When he taught the premier LA Lakers team to use mindfulness during their games, including star player Kobe Bryant, it sparked interest all over the world.

During an interview with Oprah, Phil Jackson explained how he approached mindfulness with his players:

“We talked about mindfulness as being…as much as we pump iron and we run and build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up…so we can focus, get one pointed attention and so that we can be in concert with one another in times of need. When you come off the court and you’ve had a bad call, things are going wrong for you, you sit on the bench and take a breath and you reset yourself, and you do that through this mindfulness, you just come back right in and collect yourself.”

When the pressure is on, and the cries of the spectators spark the internal voices of doubt and fear, mindfulness can bring you powerfully into the present.

World-famous rugby player, Jonnie Wilkinson, also uses mindfulness during those crucial moments when the pressure is on and he needs to dig deep to feel calm. In the last minute of the final match of the Rugby World Cup a few years ago, he was snapped cupping his hands together and focusing on them to drown out the noise of the crowd. A regular meditator, he used mindfulness to plant his feet, breathe deeply and bring himself powerfully into the present moment. He then kicked the winning field goal that brought home the World Cup for England.

Wimbledon champion Novac Djokovic, AFL team Sydney Swans, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, basketball star Michael Jordan, the USA Women’s Ice Hockey Team, and boxing champion Katie Taylor have all used mindfulness to help them win gold.

When interviewed, high performance athletes have explained how mindfulness helps them in 3 key areas. Here are the 3 mindfulness secrets of star athletes:

1. Staying focused in those crucial moments

When the pressure is on, and the cries of the spectators spark the internal voices of doubt and fear, mindfulness can bring you powerfully into the present. Thoughts of ‘what if I miss?’, or ‘I didn’t get it last time’, can easily derail us. By focusing deeply on the sensations in your body such as the feeling of your feet against the ground and the breath flowing in and out of your body, your attention is drawn inwards and into this moment, right here, right now. It becomes easier to let go of both the internal and external noise and connect with the natural flow of your body. This is ‘the zone’, the high performance single moment awareness we experience when we become one with what we are doing.

2. Noticing emotions without bringing them into the next play or move

When starting a game, or when things go wrong, fear, anxiety, nervousness, worry and tension can easily escalate. The mind grabs on, quickly dredging up memories of defeat and creating stories that mirror and solidify these feelings. Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your emotions, simply noticing them and acknowledging them without buying into them. It becomes easier to let them flow and let them go, so they don’t knock you off course. You can then start afresh, bringing you powerfully into the next moment, play or move.

3. Team synchronicity

In Phil Jackson’s memoir Eleven Rings, he talks about “one breath, one mind”. He says players “often have to make split-second decisions under enormous pressure. I discovered that when I had the players sit in silence, breathing together in sync, it helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than words. One breath equals one mind.”

When starting a game, or when things go wrong, fear, anxiety, nervousness, worry and tension can easily escalate.

He also encourages his players to keep an eye on their spirit, rather than the scoreboard. When a player is “playing within his natural abilities, he activates a higher potential for the team that transcends his own limitations and helps his teammates transcend theirs. When this happens, the whole begins to add up to more than the sum of its parts….Most coaches get tied up in knots worrying about tactics, but I preferred to focus my attention on whether the players were moving together in a spirited way.”

Research into the effectiveness of mindfulness training for high performance athletes has shown that they are:

  1. More in tune with their bodily sensations and therefore better able to maintain their body’s natural balance.
  2. More focused on the task in the present moment and therefore able to achieve higher performance.
  3. Better able to deal with stressful or challenging situations in the moment, allowing them to make better quality split second decisions.

Mindfulness not only helps professional athletes, but can be used for your own performance, whether it be taking an exam or giving a talk, performing in a music recital, playing in your local football or netball team, or building a powerful business.

More and more, we find ourselves coming back to this truth:

“The Way to do is to be”
-Lao Tsu



Jodie Gien is a committed mindfulness teacher with a longstanding personal practice of her own. Having worked for many years as a human rights and discrimination lawyer and mediator at the Australian Human Rights Commission and then as an executive coach prior to teaching mindfulness, she is passionate about fostering human potential. Jodie conducts training in mindfulness for corporations, staff and students in schools, parents, athletes and community groups. She also teaches private courses together with mindfulness coaching sessions. Jodie is an accredited “.b Teacher” for the Oxford University Mindfulness in Schools Project, an accredited Mindfulness Trainer with the esteemed Gawler Foundation and is an accredited Meditation Facilitator with Nature Care College. To find out more, visit Jodie's website or email jodie@mindfulfutureproject.com.