Mindful Meditation & Sports


We’ve heard it before, we can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. Instead what we have is the here and now, and that is our opportunity to make an impact.

Mindfulness meditation builds off this thought, as it involves bringing one’s attention to the experiences that are happening right now and in the moment. Through practice (guided or individual) a “meditator” is attempting to shed thoughts of the past (pleasant and unpleasant) and the future (excited or anxious).  In order to bring total attention to the present, the meditator will typically try to focus on their breathing and nothing else. When the mind wanders (which it inevitably will) the meditator brings their thoughts right back to the breath. The ultimate goal of mindfulness meditation is the meditator to become aware of all they are experiencing, and not judge it, stress over it, or have any other sort of unhealthy reaction.

As simple as it sounds, meditation can at times be a very difficult and frustrating process to master. However, the work seems to be worth it, as numerous studies have validated the positive impact that meditation has on reducing stress, sharpening focus, heightening concentration, and calming anxiety.

Mindfulness Meditation and its practice have become more and more common over the last couple of years, thanks in large part to more teams and athletes openly talking about how they use it. As athletes and teams look for any way to find an edge on their competition, any negative stigma that once surrounded the practice in sports, seems to be quickly disappearing.

The most famous pioneer of mindfulness meditation in sports was Hall of Fame NBA Coach Phil Jackson. Jackson’s use of mindfulness training earned him the nickname, the “Zen Master” and his habits rubbed off on superstars Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, even long after they parted ways with their coach.

In the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll have been on the leading edge of mindfulness meditation and training. Since his arrival in 2010, Carroll has stressed the importance of “seeking out moments of immense mental clarity to improve performance” and he has built mindfulness exercises into his team’s training schedule since 2013. Several other NFL teams are now following suit including the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

A 2017 study of football players at the University of Miami found that mindful meditation for a few minutes a day, helped players better cope with the mental demands and hours of strenuous physical training of their athletic program.

At the start of the study all players were asked to complete a computerized test on their ability to focus and rapidly respond to math questions flashing on the screen. Players also filled out questionnaires about their current mood and sense of well-being.

The team was then split into two groups, with one beginning a program of supervised mindfulness meditation training. During this training, the players learned to systematically relax their bodies and their minds. The sessions were short and lasted a total of 12 minutes.

After four weeks, all payers were invited to repeat the original tests on attention and happiness. The group who did not participate in the meditation training scored significantly lower in mood, relaxation, and attention. Meanwhile the group who practice mindful meditation for just 12 minutes a day, showed considerably more resilience, with higher measures of attention, mood, and focus. 12 minutes it seems, can go a long way.

Aside from just putting you in a better mood and making you more pleasant to be around, the study above suggests that there may actually some performance benefits to mindfulness meditation.

At the pace most athletes move today, there are very few downsides to giving this practice a try. What’s more, the sophistication of the Smartphone means that guided meditations are always at the tips of your fingers. Twelve minutes is all you need to have a big impact.

If you’re looking to explore guided meditation apps, a few highly rated versions include:

  1. Headspace
  2. Calm
  3. 10% Happier
  4. Mindbody
  5. Smiling Mind

Each of these apps offer some form of a “free test” (typically a 10-day trial) so you can explore and find out which one you like best.  There are all available in the Apple and Android App stores.

The Headspace App has a sports specific meditation module for athletes. The topics below showcase the specific areas they target with their meditation. These can be beneficial for making sure you are “intentional” with your practice:

  • Motivation: Discovering a healthy sense of perspective as you set clear intentions to pursue your goals.
  • Concentration: Learning to let go of the past as well as any exceptions for the future
  • Training: Making the most of every moment by learning how to set clear intentions for training sessions.
  • Competition: Training your mind to let go of the inner chatter, focus and discover a place of quiet confidence
  • Communication: Building and nurture supportive relationships as you learn to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Analysis: Reviewing your performance with a healthy perspective and objective mindset
  • Recovery: Learning how to relax, unwind and recover after every performance
  • Rehab: Managing emotions and expectations while you devote your time and energy to a healthy recovery

If you don’t have 12 minutes in your day to meditate … you probably need to meditate for an hour.


Rooks, J.D., Morrison, A.B., Goolsarran, M. et al. J Cogn Enhanc (2017) 1: 141. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0016-5



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