Five Professional Athletes Who Use Mindfulness to Aid Their Fitness

on May 11, 2020 • Grace

Five Professional Athletes Who Use Mindfulness to Aid Their Fitness

Breaking news: Meditation has officially taken over the athletic industry. Now more than ever, professional and amateur athletes are turning to workouts of the mind in order to achieve their peak performance, and it’s time to take note. 

This trend may have started with George Mumford, a sports psychologist and mindfulness expert, who was recruited by NBA coach Phil Jackson to coach some of America’s star basketball players. 

As Jackson said about these meditation exercises, “It’s so vital for a team to have this skill, or players to have this skill. To be able to divorce themselves from what just happened that’s inherent to them — a referee’s bad call, or an issue that goes on with your opponent. You’ve got to be able to come back and center yourself again.”

Now athletes from all over the world are focusing on mindfulness training. Before trying it for yourself, check out how these five allstars have used mindfulness and meditation to stay at the top of their game. 

  1. Novak Djokovic

This tennis champion is no stranger to distractions and external pressure. After all, when you’re competing for the world’s biggest titles, it comes with the territory. But how does Novak Djokovic stay in the zone during all of his matches? He practices daily mindfulness.  

In his 2013 book, Serve to Win, Djokovic explained that he considered his daily mindfulness training to be just as important as his physical training. This is because these mental practices helped him overcome his fear, anger, worry and self-doubt, instead allowing him to focus on the present moment. 

In this book, he wrote, “Now when I blow a serve or shank a backhand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt but I know how to handle them: I acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them slide by, focusing on the moment.”

As an emotional player, this mindset was essential for Djokovic’s success. Especially when he went through a two-year slump, in which he struggled with athletic injuries as well as his own personal problems. 

As he says, “I believe in the power of the mind and visualisation, which is a big part of my everyday life. I know I cannot influence physically the next day or what’s going to happen in the next weeks or months. But I can send good vibes to the future and then do everything in my power to get myself prepared. Then, when the time comes, I’ll try to seize the opportunity.”  

With recent successes, it seems this training worked. Not only did it allow him to persevere during the ups and downs, but it helped him to defeat his rivals and end up back on top.

  1. Tom Daly

Back in 2016, this Olympic medalist was struggling with his own injuries and illnesses. Tom Daley had announced a career break, and he was considered leaving the world of competitive diving altogether. 

That’s when Daley’s husband, Lance Black, suggested he try mindfulness and meditation exercises. While at first he was doubtful, he soon changed his mind as the couple began meditating together every morning. 

He started off with the app Headspace, which he used to learn the basics of meditation. Once he got more comfortable, he started meditating on his own. 

“If I had to do a terrible dive tomorrow, I would spend the afternoon thinking about it. I’ve got to the point with my mindfulness and breathing techniques now where I can think, ‘What’s the point of spending the energy worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow when I’m not there yet?’” says Daley. 

“Just taking 10 seconds to focus on my breathing in the morning, at night or even when I’m up on the board about to compete, really helps me forget any worries about what might have happened or what could happen and just live in the present,” he says. In 2018 and 2019, he went on to win several medals in different swimming competitions around the world. 

  1. Laura Trott

As the most decorated British female Olympain of all time, Laura Kenny (previously Laura Trott) has long dealt with pressure and nerves. However, mindfulness has helped her stay on track when she’s on the track — the bicycle track, that is. 

She first started learning about mindfulness from psychologists who worked closely with the British cycling team. They helped her master a few exercises that focus on both physical and mental training. 

One of these exercises helped her learn how to breathe in a mindful way. It is a breathing technique that keeps her mind focused on the present moment, instead of trailing off with worries or fears. She explains the exercise like this: “If you push your belly out when you take a breath in, like doing the opposite to what you think you should do, it really helps.”

“We also do a relaxation thing where you work through every muscle in your body,” she says. “So you point your toes and hold it for three seconds, then you tense your calf and work all the way up. By the time you get to your head and your neck you’re supposed to be relaxed.” 

Kenny practiced these exercises before and during the Rio Olympics in 2016, where she went on to win her third and fourth gold medals. 

  1. Colleen Quigley

This Olympic runner used to be a non-believer when it came to mental strength affecting her physical performance. Colleen Quigley thought that if she trained her body and made sure that her legs were strong enough to carry her past the finish line, that she could never fail. However, that all changed when she noticed that her negative thoughts were holding her back, not her body. 

“The only thing that would stop me was my mentality about the race and that part was completely up to me,” says Quigley. “I knew I needed to find that zone and get locked into an effortlessly strong and powerful stride. I took some deep breaths, relaxed my shoulders, and went out and won the race.”

In order to achieve the right mentality, Quigley began meditating for ten minutes every day. Like Daly, she is a big believer in the guided meditations by Headspace. She usually listens to one before hitting the track in order to better visualise her path to first place. 

“I’m not trying to say that now I meditate and I never have off days — no way! I’m still human,” she says. “But I am learning and getting better at handling my thoughts during workouts and races. Now, when I am in the middle of a long, grinding tempo with my teammates and the negative thoughts pop up … I am better at recognizing them as thoughts, nothing more, and letting them go, refocusing on the moment and the lap that I am currently in.”

  1. Derrick Morgan

When Derrick Morgan first started playing American football, 15-hour days were the norm. While he was known for his strong performance on the field, Morgan’s rookie year was plagued with injuries. In order to stay in the game, the linebacker started doing research about his body, and that’s when he learned about meditation. 

“I didn’t know how to meditate,” he says. “I had the traditional view that you have to sit cross-legged — I can’t even do that, my legs don’t even go like that.”

He started practicing mindfulness by listening to guided meditations while he was laying in bed before sleep. At first, he didn’t make a habit out of it. However, the more he meditated, the more results he began to notice. 

Now when he feels the pressure building on the field, he takes a deep breath and focuses on what is happening in the moment. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna play,’ and then I played better,” Morgan says. “I noticed a significant difference in how I played. It was more of reaction, instinctual-type play as opposed to trying to control everything.”

As he says, “We neglect the mind so much [when it comes to athletics]. How can you neglect the most important part of all of this?”

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