Mindfulness in sport: getting athletes into the state of flux

For many decades, sports psychology has relied on cognitive behavioral therapy to control and modify psychological variables involved in sports performance. Recently, the philosophy and practice of mindfulness it has aroused great interest among sports psychologists, because it seems to contribute to a better psychological predisposition on the part of the athletes who practice it.

The application of mindfulness in sport

But first, let’s answer a basic question: what exactly is “mindfulness”?

Mindfulness means paying special attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judging. To learn more about the practice of mindfulness, we invite you to consult our article “Mindfulness: 8 benefits of mindfulness”.

Mindfulness improves athletic performance

When talking about improving athletic performance, many people only think of physical variables, But the psychological component it is very important. Although the role of the sports psychologist is unknown to many, more and more teams and athletes are seeking the services of a psychologist who is aware of the benefits he brings in different aspects of sports performance, training or interpersonal skills.

The right combination of cognitive, affective, physiological, allows optimal performance in sport, Similar to what we mean by Flow State, but applied to the field of sports.

Mindfulness and important psychological variables for better sports performance

There are many psychological variables (motivation, level of activation, stress, etc.) that will be decisive for the optimal performance of an athlete, and much research has shown its impact on athletes. These variables, moreover, constitute other important variables (eg, within the variable self-efficacy, perception of control) which will also affect the athletic performance of an individual.

It is important to note that these variables are related to each other. For example, the stress variable can affect the activation level variable or the activation level variable on the attention variable (and vice versa). Mindfulness, directly or indirectly, will influence many of these variables, such as: stress, level of activation, attention, etc.

On the other hand, mindfulness will also have a positive influence on an athlete’s self-esteem and self-confidence, as the characteristic “non-judgmental” interpretation of this practice will be positive when interpreting successes. and failures. This is also important for young athletes, as educating them about mindfulness at an early age can affect their future well-being.

Also, practice mindfulness it will be beneficial in interpersonal relationships and team cohesion, A determining factor in team sports.

Emotional management and mindfulness in sport

Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy, which assumes that the best athletic performance is based on self-control or behavior change, Mindfulness focuses on the idea that optimal performance is a state that emerges from the acceptance of thoughts, emotions, and sensations. without attempting to remove or modify them, it is simply a matter of observing them without passing judgment.

Acceptance of emotions leads to an improvement in both the level of attention and activation, as emotions are not interpreted as negative (even emotions that are part of stress). The emotional self-knowledge that is acquired with Mindfulness and the correct emotional regulation, fruit of this self-knowledge and “of being in the present”, promotes an ideal state of athletic performance. The athlete who practices Mindfulness in sport is in “Flow State” because his body and his mind are in harmony.

The state of flux in full consciousness

People who usually use Mindfulness stop reasoning, controlling and ruminating on anything that affects them negatively, to merge into a process of acceptance, which he carries with him a union between body and mind, A union with the present. The athlete observes what he feels and thinks without further meaning and greatly increases his concentration. Thoughts and emotions are let go, without giving them meaning or value, distancing themselves because they are not controlled, only accepted.

Time is invested in the present: in the awareness of the moment, in bodily sensations and in the state of flux. In other words, energy is not invested in future concerns or expectations, and in this way, better athletic performance is achieved.

Mindfulness and sports injuries

Mindfulness has been applied in many fields with benefits in variables such as stress management, pain or quality of life. But in the field of sports psychology, it is not only used to improve stress management and athlete performance, but it is also put into practice with injured athletes.

the sports injuries they have negative consequences on the mental well-being of athletes, as they cause psychological symptoms (fear, anger, low self-esteem, sadness, etc.) which can have a significant impact on good recovery. Indeed, these psychological factors can contribute to poor adherence to treatment, a decrease in sports performance during the rehabilitation phase, and even lead to giving up the practice.

Solé, Bruno, Serpa and Palmi (2014), in their article “Applications of mindfulness in sports injuries”, published in the Journal of Sport Psychology, they recommend the gradual introduction of mindfulness in the prevention and rehabilitation of sports injuries, As it has been shown that their contribution can be very useful, as it manages to improve the following variables: balance in sporting action, pre-competitive anxiety, post-injury emotional reactivity, pain control, communication necessary for the athlete to improve the relationship with his environment and his medical team, adherence to the established recovery program, care capacity and improvement of adaptation resources.

Bibliographical references:

  • Solé S., Carrança B., Serpa S. and Palmi J. (2014) Applications of mindfulness (mindfulness) in sports injuries. Journal of Sport Psychology, 23 (2), 501-508

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