Mindfulness is the new buzz word sweeping the sporting world, with more athletes shunning the commonly used psychological skills techniques such as self-talk and imagery in favour of a more accepting approach to their sport.
There is an increasing body of evidence noting that attempts to decrease or suppress negative thoughts in a sporting context can actually bring these thoughts more to fruition in the mind, contributing to diminished performance. Mindfulness techniques came from Eastern philosophy and encompass a full acceptance and awareness of all thoughts, feelings and actions, paying attention to the present moment rather than trying to escape from it. Mindfulness seems a great way to address this common issue with our usual psychological skills techniques that encourage us to distract, suppress or imagine something different from the negative thoughts that often arise when in a high-stake performance context.
However, at first I was a little sceptical of mindfulness being used in a performance situation. If we are to encourage a full awareness and acceptance of all that is, are we not resigning ourselves to things going wrong, to making mistakes, to eventually losing?
I asked 10 athletes participating in endurance sport what they thought. It can be suggested that endurance sport is a killer for an increase in the amount of negative thoughts in our mind, due to the monotony and fatigue that inevitably ensues. Without the mental alertness, negativity can find its way in and force endurance athletes to slow down or even DNF.
Although none of these athletes would consider themselves to use mindfulness techniques, many of them had the same idea as me. As one athlete alluded, the mental battle and the attempts to suppress, distract and eliminate negative thoughts were the whole reason why he ran. That accomplishment of tricking the mind and pushing through, he said, was the whole basis of his feeling of euphoria at having finished a gruelling endurance race.
This, of course, is not to say that mindfulness techniques aren’t beneficial to endurance athletes. In fact, endurance sport could be considered a perfect meditative state to use these techniques, as it encourages a state of flow due to the repetitiveness of marathon running in particular. However, it’s worth noting that endurance athletes may not be willing to engage in such techniques for fear of losing their competitive edge. It may be pertinent to address these perceptions to allow endurance athletes to reap the benefits that mindfulness techniques have to offer.