Mindfulness and Meditation: Strategies to Reduce Stress and Injury in Athletes
Most, if not all athletes experience some sort of stress or anxiety before games that may decrease their ability perform at their best. Learning how to channel this stress and/or anxiety can help with focus, sport performance, and injury reduction. In addition most athletes also have stressors in their personal lives such as school and work. Stress can be described as an unpleasant emotional state or condition characterized by feelings of tension, apprehension, and worry (2). Mindfulness and meditation is a strategy that can be used to deal with this stress and anxiety.
What is mindfulness and meditation?
Mindfulness is described as the awareness that arises from purposely paying attention in the present moment nonjudgmentally. (4). Mindfulness also indicates the acceptance and awareness of your attention, senses, feelings, and ongoing experiences without judging or trying to control them. This allows the individual to embrace their thoughts and feelings instead of avoiding or ignoring them. (1)
As opposed to mindfulness, meditation is defined as “a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” (5) Mindfulness is one but an important component of meditation. Another important component of meditation includes concentration. (6)
Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
Several studies report that psychological factors, especially stress, are related to sports injuries. Practicing stress management techniques have also been found to improve sport performance. (3) Chronic stress and the inability to adapt to stress over time can lead towards the inability to adapt to training, underperformance, overtraining syndrome, and ultimately athlete burnout. (4)
A study by Davis JO examined the effect that a progressive relaxation program had on injury rates on two collegiate sport teams. They found that there was a 52% reduction in injuries for swimmers and a 33% reduction in serious injuries for football players after following the progressive relaxation program. (3) Furrer et al conducted a 12-week mindfulness training program, they found that mindfulness had a positive impact on the athlete’s awareness, recovery, focus, performance, and also resulted in a reduction in burnout. (4)
Different Types of Meditation
Imagery meditation is a type of Transcendental Meditation technique. It is a very simple, natural and effortless way of letting your mind settle down into an extremely calm and wise state of rest. While in this state the patient can picture a positive experience of training. This type of meditation has been shown to have high self-reported outcomes (1).
Self-Talk meditation is how one speaks of them self or to them self’s. This technique can play a high roll in performance, desire, and self-image. Mental skills such as self-talk, exposure, cognitive change, and acceptance have been classified as mechanisms of change in mindfulness meditation (1).
Relaxation is the most common type of meditation in stress-reducing programs or personal development. One way to practice relaxation meditation is to sit calmly with your eyes closed and concentrate on repeating a word or sound (1).
How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation training go hand in hand. It only takes about 5-10 minutes a day. Numerous studies have shown improvements with focus, performance, recovery, and overall health for individuals who practice mindfulness and meditation.
Incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life can be as easy as downloading an app to your phone. Smiling Mind, HeadSpace, Calm, and Mylife Meditation are examples of some the many available apps to help begin a daily mindfulness and meditation practice. It may be challenging to find time to incorporate a daily practice into your routine, though this is when mindfulness meditation may be the most helpful. Start small by picking a time that you can consistently devote 3-5 minutes to practice mindfulness. For student athletes it could be also helpful to use it when traveling to or from a game to help calm, focus, and re-center athlete. Using a mindfulness meditation before game for per-competition stress or after a game when they could be feeling frustrated and anxious.
- Performance enhancement through meditation in athletes: Insights from a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Tae Yoon Kima, Jung Hyun Kim, Ph.D.
- The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on HPA-Axis in Pre-Competition Stress in Sports Performance of Elite Shooters. Dr. Shaji John, Dr. S. K Verma, Dr. G. L Khanna
- Sports Injuries and Stress Management: An Opportunity for Research. James O. Davis. Human Kinetics Journals.
- How Mindfulness Training may mediate Stress, Performance and Burnout. Furrer, Dr. F. Moen, and. Dr. K. Firing. The Sport Journal.
- The Meeting of Meditative Disciplines and Western Pyschology: A Mutually Enriching Dialogue. Walsh, R. Shapiro, S.L. American Pyschologist
- 5 Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation. Schultz, J. Pyschology Today.
Written by: Tasji Urhausen MATRN, ATC madras high school athletic trainer for The Center Foundation in Bend, OR. Learn more about Tasji HERE.
The Center Foundation provides sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. We do this by placing certified athletic trainers in local high schools to keep kids safe. Learn more about our work HERE.