Mindfulness and sports performance

Today we are witnessing the proliferation of sporting events aimed at amateurs and the proliferation of practitioners of the most varied sports disciplines, from running to crossfit, including the famous bicycle in all its variants or simply indoor training.

We clearly know what training needs to be done on a physical level to be prepared or improved, and lately we have added rest time and nutrition to the equation.

And it’s worth asking: Does psychological state influence athletic performance? Is meditation useful in the search for personal improvement?

We have known the answer to these questions for a few years now. This answer is: Of course yes! But let’s start at the beginning.

    What is athletic performance?

    Sports performance is the relationship between the effort invested and the results obtained.

    Performance is influenced by many factors such as basic physical ability, technical and tactical skills, nutrition, health-related factors, personality factors, environmental and circumstantial factors or psychological factors.

    In some of them we cannot influence, but in others we can, as is the case with psychological factors.

      What is mindfulness and what benefits does it have?

      These days, most people have heard of mindfulness, even if only in passing. Mindfulness is a westernized meditation with Buddhist origins. It is an exercise in attention, in being present in the present, with acceptance and without judgment.

      Mindfulness has many physical and mental benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep disorders, protecting the brain by modifying its structure (slower telomere shortening, which prevents cellular aging, and increased axonal density and myelin), improved concentration, emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationships, greater creativity and better working memory, among others.

      Many studies have been conducted that have confirmed the usefulness of Mindfulness in various physical and psychological pathologies.

      Thus, it is clear that mindfulness can be beneficial in most areas of our lives but, until recently, in the field of sport, it was not given the importance it has.

        Mindfulness in sport

        A few years ago, in 1985, John Kabat-Zinn (creator of the “Reduction of Stress Based on Full Attention” technique) carried out a study, with his collaborators, in which he tested the usefulness of Mindfulness in the sports field. I did a study with the US Olympic rowing team. and got improved participant performance, as well as competition management, fatigue and recovery.

        Later, specific mindfulness protocols were created for sports such as MAC (mindfulness in combination with acceptance and engagement) by Gardner and Moore in 2007 and MSPE (enhancement of sports performance through Mindfulness) by Kauffman and colleagues in 2009. Both have shown very good results in studies that have been conducted.

        In the field of high performance, we know that these techniques have been used for several years. We can find videos of Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi, among others, talking about the importance of mental health, praising meditation and doing some exercise.

        There are also videos of Phil Jackson, former professional player and former NBA coach (with 11 NBA titles under his belt) talking about how he introduced Mindfulness into the preparation of his players. to boost performance, sharpen concentration and help them better manage the worst moments of matches.


        Several times we encounter stagnation in improving training that prevents us from achieving the objectives set (either in the preparation of physical tests for the oppositions, or in the improvement aimed at obtaining a specific mark in a test or in simple training aimed at improving health or aesthetics).

        Sometimes this stagnation is due to psychological factors such as lack of motivation, burnout, stress, self-esteem issues, etc.

        We have made a lot of progress in understanding training as something global and multifactorial and, even knowing that the psychological factor is very important in these cases, we are not doing anything to improve it.

        In view of the results that Mindfulness obtains in all the fields in which it is studied and, more specifically, in the field of sport, I think it would be interesting devote part of our training time to this discipline.

        Maria de Goñi Unanua. General health psychologist. Worker at the Vitaliza center.

        Bibliographic references

        • Palmi, J. and Solé, S. (2016). Mindfulness-based interventions in sports psychology. Journal of Sport Psychology 2016. vol 25, num.1, pp.147-155
        • Manas, I.; del Aguila, J.; Franco, C.; Gil, MD; Gil, C. (2014). Mindfulness and sports performance. Psychology, society and education 2014. vol 6, nº1, pp41-53.
        • Contreras Perez, V.; Crobu, R. (2018) Mindfulness as an Intervention in Sports Psychology – A Systematic Review. Journal of Psychology Applied to Sport and Physical Exercise, vol. 3, no. 2, 2018, p. 1-15.

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