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Turning down the noise and turning up the focus: help for distracted athletes

What do Kobe Bryant (basketball), Derek Jeter (baseball), Misty-May Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings (volleyball), Novak Djokovic (tennis), Seattle Seahawks (football) and many other top athletes and sports teams have in common? They all use mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is utilized by these athletes to maintain high performance during pressure situations, sharpen their mental focus and clarity, and recover from distractions during competition. In the world of sports psychology, traditional interventions such as imagery, self-talk and goal setting have been the standard methods to help athletes manage distracting thoughts and emotions while training and in competition. More recently, there has been a shift in sports psychology away from these traditional methods, because they have been found to actually increase the focus on distracting thoughts and emotions, which interfere with performance. Current research is discovering that, rather than trying to control distractions, it may be more beneficial for athletes to develop skills to notice the distractions in a non-judgmental way and let go of them in the moment. These skills are gained through training in mindfulness meditation.

Both professional and amateur athletes experience emotional distractions such as frustration, anger, anxiety, self-doubt and worry. The brain and body, acting together through the connection of the autonomic nervous system produces emotions. The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system usually work in harmony with each other, but emotional stress cause them to be out of sync, which blocks performance capacities. The following are some examples of the consequences of negative emotional distractions on the athlete:

*Less ability to think clearly
*Less efficiency in decision-making
*Less ability to communicate clearly
*Reduced physical coordination
*Inability to perform at the highest skill level the athlete is capable of

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps the athlete access their highest performance level by managing negative emotions in a way that helps the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems stay in sync. Sport psychology professionals can help athletes learn the skills of mindfulness. Even a small amount of meditation training can be useful to reduce distracting thoughts and emotions and help the athlete to be able to focus attention on what matters and only what matters during competition.

To learn more about mindfulness meditation for sport performance, find a sport psychology professional in your area who teaches mindfulness or find a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class that teaches basic mindfulness skills.