It is time for professional sports teams to go beyond training the players’ body and start training their mind to handle the mental stress that comes with being in high performance environments. The psychological stress that pro athletes experience has a negative impact not only on their personal life but on their athletic performance as well. Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and decision making abilities. Numerous research conducted in recent years has shown that practicing mindfulness on a regular basis helps reduce stress.
The responsibility of bringing mindfulness into mainstream professional sports may rest with the coaches and their commitment to making their players not just better sportsmen but better human beings. Recent NFL news has spurred a multitude of discussion around rules and laws surrounding off-the-field behavior of its players. Now might be the right time for people and organizations that pour millions into professional sports to start thinking about taking care of their stars from the inside out. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has already embraced this attitude, taking a holistic approach to training his players. Regular mindfulness meditation practice and yoga is incorporated into the team’s training routine. He realizes that taking care of the players’ mental well-being not only helps them stay relaxed and have clarity of mind on the field but off the field as well. As the players learn the art of accepting and letting go, of being relaxed and alert, they are able to focus fully on the present moment, not feeling frustrated at a botched play or thinking about winning or losing. They are able to just be…in the moment, without the constant mental chatter, without any distractions. This calm state of mind brings about increased focus and decreased physical and mental stress. Without the mental commentary and judgments that accompany every act, the mind is able to quiet down and with relaxed concentration the players are able to ‘be in the zone’.