For many decades, sports psychology has relied on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to control and modify the psychological variables involved in sports performance . Recently, the philosophy and practice of Mindfulness has aroused great interest among sports psychologists, as it seems to contribute to a better psychological disposition on the part of the sportsmen and women who practice it.

The application of Mindfulness in sport

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

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

Mindfulness improves sports performance

When talking about sports performance improvement, many people think only of the physical variables , however, the psychological component is very important. Despite the fact that the role of the sports psychologist is unknown to many individuals, more and more teams and athletes are hiring the services of a psychologist who is aware of the benefits he or she brings to different aspects of sports performance, training or interpersonal relationships.

The correct combination of cognitive, affective and physiological conditions allows an optimal state of performance in sport , similar to what we understand as the Flow State, but applied to the field of sport.

Mindfulness and the psychological variables important 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 many are the investigations that have shown their impact on athletes.These variables, in addition, make up other important variables (for example, within the variable self-efficacy , the perception of control) that will also affect the individual’s sporting performance.

It is important to note that these variables are related to each other . For example, the stress variable may affect the activation level variable, or the activation level variable 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, since the “non-judgmental” interpretation characteristic of this practice will be positive when it comes to interpreting successes and failures. This is also important for young athletes, as educating them with Mindfulness at an early age can impact on their future well-being.

Furthermore, the practice of Mindfulness will be beneficial in interpersonal relationships and team cohesion , a determining factor in collective sports.

Emotional Management and Mindfulness in Sport

Unlike Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which assumes the idea that the best sports performance is based on self-control or behavioural change, Mindfulness focuses on the idea that optimal performance is a state that emerges from the acceptance of bodily thoughts, emotions and sensations without trying to eliminate or modify them, simply observing them in a non-judgmental way.

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

The Flow State in the Mindfulness

People who habitually use Mindfulness, stop reasoning, controlling and ruminating on everything that affects them in a negative way, to melt into a process of acceptance, which brings about a union between body and mind , a union with the present. The sportsman observes what he feels and thinks without any further significance, and increases his concentration considerably. Thoughts and emotions are let go, without giving them meaning or value, achieving a distance with these since they are not controlled, only accepted.

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

Mindfulness and sports injuries

Mindfulness has been applied in numerous 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 being used to improve stress management and performance enhancement of athletes, but is also being put into practice with injured athletes.

Sports injuries have negative consequences for the mental well-being of sportsmen and women, as they cause resulting psychological symptoms (fear, anger, low self-esteem, sadness, etc.) that can have a significant impact on correct recovery. In fact, these psychological factors can contribute to poor adherence to treatment, a reduction in sports performance in the readaptation phase, and even lead to the abandonment of practice.

Solé, Bruno, Serpa and Palmi (2014), in their article “Applications of Mindfulness in sports injuries”, published in the Journal of Sports Psychology , recommend the progressive introduction of Mindfulness in the prevention and rehabilitation of sports injuries , as it has been shown that its 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 his relationship with his environment and his medical team, adherence to the established recovery program, attention span and improvement of coping resources.

Bibliographic references:

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