Mindfulness: Athletes can improve performance by finding their center

By Robyn Parets

College applications, standardized testing, piles of homework. It’s no wonder high schoolers are stressed out. When you add competitive sports into the mix, this creates even more anxiety.

To help youth athletes learn healthful ways to relieve stress, parents and coaches are turning to mindfulness-based interventions. These stress-busting methods can also help reduce injuries, enhance positive thinking, promote mental awareness and improve focus.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

What exactly is a mindfulness-based intervention? It’s an umbrella term to describe techniques, like yoga and meditation, that help people become aware of how they feel in the present moment. When practicing meditation, breath work and yoga, for example, participants can achieve a deep sense of inner peace.

When it comes to student-athletes in particular, mindfulness is key as it can also help with recovery from injury and with performance – both in sports and in school. These were the conclusions of an analysis of the medical literature in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, which corroborate the advice of mindfulness experts.

Better yet, “higher perceived performance led to higher satisfaction and improved motivation, which also had a positive influence on burnout prevention,” according to an article published in July 2015 by The Sport Journal.

“Athletes are under such immense pressure, and at the high school level, they get the physical coaching but not the mental part that is achieved through mindfulness,” said Holly Meyers, a mindfulness coach and certified yoga instructor in Washington, DC, who has worked with professional and student-athletes for 15 years. “These athletes are like gladiators. They go out onto the field and everyone is screaming. There is so much distraction.”

Through Meyers’ classes, workshops and one-on-one sessions, she uses breathing techniques, yoga movement and meditation skills to help young athletes cultivate awareness. Athletes can see positive results in just one class, she said.

For example, during a class with the University of Maryland football team in 2010 in College Park, Meyers worked with the group on breathing and relaxation skills to help them stay focused. Two of the football players came up to her after class and asked if she could demonstrate the breathing method again as it helped alleviate their anxiety.

“It was amazing,” she said.

When it comes to student-athletes in particular, mindfulness is key as it can also help with recovery from injury and with performance – both in sports and in school.

Where to Find Mindfulness Programs for Young Athletes

Because most student-athletes experience school and sports pressure, mindfulness programs can benefit almost all involved in youth sports. But, if your child is having trouble sleeping, experiencing difficulties at school, or dealing with mental health issues, mindfulness and yoga may be particularly helpful, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

If you’re lucky, your school or sports program may offer classes or workshops in mindfulness. If not, you can still find programs by calling your local yoga studio or doing an Internet search for teen yoga programs. You can also ask a yoga studio owner if an instructor is available to conduct sessions for the team or one-on-one lessons with your child.

Or try going with your teen to a local meditation class. A parent can also benefit from mindfulness and then practice these skills with his child, says Meyers.

Robyn Parets is a journalist and personal finance writer based in Boston. A former staff writer for Investor’s Business Daily and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids, a children’s yoga brand and online training course. You can follow her on Twitter @RobynParets or reach her via email at robynparets@gmail.com.

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