Is mindfulness the secret to a better player performance?

Date published: Sunday 24th July 2016 12:57

Juan Mata

Mindfulness can be described as a psychological process, during which a person’s attention and focus is truly in the moment; from the emotions being felt, to the experiences going on around them, mindfulness involves a person channelling each second as it happens in order to further concentration and enhance awareness. While the term ‘mindfulness’ wouldn’t seem out of place at a yoga convention or meditation retreat, its use is also well documented across the world of sports, and is in practice, right now, on the football pitch.

When you think about it, the presence of mindfulness on the pitch makes a lot of sense. Under the watchful gaze of thousands of spectators, players are expected to remember formations, navigate a pitch, and co-ordinate their limbs, with one action, scoring a goal, in mind. Few of us could function under such scrutiny and pressure, and it’s little wonder that mindfulness is thought to help players during each game. So, why is mental agility so important to football? After all, players aren’t known for their academic prowess. Far from being a game of stamina, speed, and the ability to kick a ball, football is one that comprises many elements. A clever, clear, and focused mind is the key to success as much as a player’s ability to get that ball from A to B.

Practising mindfulness can help players block out the noise of the crowd and better find the ball beneath a tangle of legs and boots. It also helps with remembering the tactics and strategies that have been discussed in the dressing room and with relaxing their body, so that it performs in the way they want.

Football players may be well-oiled athletic machines, but they are also incredibly mentally disciplined. Just look at footballers such as Manchester United’s Juan Mata, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, and FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. They are renowned for their talents on the pitch and each of the players – and so many more beside – demonstrate the ability to make quick decisions, fool opponents with their moves, and plan where they need to be long before they take a single step. Ability in mindfulness is essential for enabling all of these contributing factors to come together to create footballing perfection.

The importance of mindfulness across all sports
Not just footballers benefit from mindfulness. As briefly mentioned above, there are a number of players, from every kind of sport, who will credit their ability to focus clearly, and achieve an almost ‘Zen-like’ status, with their success in their field.

Tennis players, for example, must be able to clear their mind and concentrate on that tiny ball, while golfers are renowned for being great thinkers, able to plot where a ball must land in the fewest number of swings. However, did you know that mindfulness could be applied to sports that, at first, may seem as though they’re all down to luck? Take poker, for example.

Known in many countries as a ‘mind sport’, poker relies upon a player’s mental agility, their ability to ‘read’ their opponents, and their aptitude for applying strategies far more than ‘the luck of the draw’. Indeed, mindfulness is an essential attribute in poker.

“I honestly think one of the best methods of preparation is mental. So much of the game at the highest level comes down to fractional decisions,” explains poker pro Scott Seiver in 888 Poker’s article regarding how mindfulness can sharpen a player’s poker edge. Exploring activities such as meditation, ‘intention setting’, and journaling, and introducing the ideas of healthy eating and staying clear of distractions, the article talks about poker, but could be discussing any sport at all. It is essential for those undertaking sport to be keenly aware of their surroundings, keeping the goal (figuratively, and literally) in mind, and the reward to follow. Have you ever associated the playing of football and poker before?

Football – aside from balls, boots, and awesome goals, there’s very little to it, right? Well, no, actually. As a footie fan, you’ll know that the beautiful game is one of skill, incredible talent, and soaring moves, as well as strategy, high stakes, and a whole lot of fancy footwork. How often have you paused to consider the mental agility required during a game of football, though? Players are often ridiculed for their intellect, or perceived lack thereof, but the truth is that football is a game that relies upon mindfulness as much as athleticism.

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