There’s a different type of practice going on, and it’s not on the field. Nationwide, top-tiered athletes and sports teams are engaging in meditation as part of training. Once most of them start, they can’t stop. From the courts to the golf course, top-paid professionals have found a key ingredient to step up their game.
Sports meditation is no big secret, though. Back in the ‘90s, when the Chicago Bulls went on an NBA Championship winning streak, meditation was a part of their training. Coach Phil Jackson had introduced meditation teacher George Mumford as part of the team’s training support staff. After success with the Bulls, Mumford went on to provide meditation training for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000, where they also won several championships under his guidance. According to an interview with the Mind Body Awareness Project, Mumford believes that athletes and players cannot perform without adequate meditation practice. It helps players be mindful of the moment, pay attention and relax.
During the interview, he said, “In sports, what gets people’s attention is this idea of being in the zone…That happens when we are in the moment, when we are mindful of what is going on. There’s a lack of self-consciousness, there’s a relaxed concentration, and there’s this sense of effortlessness, of being in the flow….When we are in the moment and absorbed with the activity, we play our best. That happens once and awhile, but it happens more often if we learn how to be more mindful.“
Being mindful and in “the zone” is key for many sports teams. Just ask Trinity College’s women’s squash team in Hartford, CT. Since many college athletes deal with academic stress and performance pressure, the team’s assistant coach, Dr. Randy Lee and coach Wendy Bartlett, decided to introduce the team to meditation as part of training in 2010. After seven months, the coaches observed a calmer and more focused team that succeeded in better handling challenges than before. The team’s use of meditation even became the subject of a graduate student Emily Lindon’s thesis. She found that the player’s “perceived self-efficacy” (their belief in their capabilities) showed a significant increase after five months. That year, the team was ranked third in the nation.
Former NFL player Damien Vaughn felt so strongly about the benefits of meditation that he started “The Vaughn Center,” a program that helps high-performance athletes enhance their athletic and personal potential through meditation. Vaughn even travels around the country to give lectures and share his experiences about the benefits of meditation.
Joe Namath was never shy about sharing the profound benefits of meditation for him back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Neither was major league baseball player Larry Bowa who said that meditation made him a better player and was quoted saying, “It puts your mind at ease and relaxes your body at all times.”
Professional golfer, Gary Player, has included 20 to 30 minutes of meditation into his daily routines. Shiv Kapur must have gotten the memo, too. Kapur, an Indian golfer who is swiftly climbing the professional circuit, also has incorporated meditation into his training.
Other well-known athletes who have used sports meditation include Arthur Ashe (who credited meditation to calming him during the 1975 Wimbledon final), Willie Stargell, Martina Navratilova and Bill Walton.
Sports meditation isn’t limited to only top athletes. It’s inexpensive and can help all kinds of athletes, sports teams and individuals. Visualizing goals, learning to calm the mind, relax the body and focus carries positive benefits whether you are enjoying an evening run or playing baseball for a local team on weekends. Maybe it’s time to step outside the box and try sports meditation. Maybe it’s just what your game has been needing.
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