ATHLETIC MINDFULNESS: What is it and How Can it Help Sports Performance?


It’s a cool buzzword that’s come to the forefront of sports psychology in recent years. However, for some strange reason, it gets stereotyped as impractical, ineffective, or ‘out there.’

But that’s not the case at all! Athletic mindfulness is truly the key to unlocking your greatest athletic superpower, your mind! And sports science backs this up!

First, let’s define what athletic mindfulness is.

Performance Anxiety

Let me paint you a picture. Think about the last time you competed and felt overwhelmed or under pressure. Or you made a critical error and could not shake it. I would imagine that thoughts and judgments started popping into your head. You didn’t know where they came from, they just showed up. Maybe they sounded like this…

I can’t believe I just did that! I know better!”
“If we lose this game, it will be because of me!”
“I am going to get subbed off now for sure!”

You begin to feel anxious, nervous, upset, disappointed, and/or defeated. Your body now starts to mirror these feelings. Your stomach feels sick. Your muscles tense up. Your legs begin to feel fatigued. You can’t concentrate or focus. You hang your head. That one mistake that you made plays on a loop inside your mind.  

Does any of this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. What if you could change that mental loop? What if you saw it differently?

Now when you make a mistake, those same thoughts still return, but now you decide to let them go. They are only thoughts; you don’t give them energy; you don’t attach anything to them. You breathe; you release the thoughts as if you are releasing a balloon into the air. You don’t think about the past; you don’t think about the future. You exhale, return to your tasks, and get ready for the next moment.

This sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Welcome to athletic mindfulness. Sounds too good to be true, huh? Yes, it appears to be too easy and kind of far-fetched. Maybe. But when you decide to commit and train it like a muscle, only then can it become easy! It ultimately becomes a habit that allows you to play FREE!

Let’s look at the science of it first.

We know that our mind directly influences our athletic performance. So, mindfulness is a way to align our mind-body connection to increase performance. It’s training our brain to be in the present moment in order to better handle internal and external distractions. It’s about bringing our full awareness to the present by paying attention to our experience on purpose and non-judgmentally. It encourages athletes to focus on personal values or processes of sport-related skills and game strategies instead of focusing on performance outcomes (Pineau, Glass, & Kaufman, 2014).

Awareness and acceptance of the present moment permit us to focus less on negative thoughts and focus on the athletic tasks at hand (Pineau et al., 2014). Thus, mindfulness allows us to concentrate on the present moment and not dwell on the past or worry about the future. Additionally, instead of changing or stopping unwanted thoughts, mindfulness teaches us to play with such thoughts (Bernier et al., 2009; Gardner & Moore, 2004). This is important because dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future performances prevents us from performing at our best and enjoying the game like we should.

 To summarize, athletic mindfulness is an athlete’s superpower!

It creates a space to choose how to respond to an event, with intent. As unproductive thoughts enter your head, you can pause and choose your response with mindfulness. A greater sense of mindfulness is more likely to lead us to experience our optimal performance mindset, what some call ‘the zone, or flow.’ Flow is an elusive psychological state that occurs during peak performance, where you feel entirely in tune with your body, where it feels like time slows down and that you can accomplish anything (Csikszenthmnihalyi, 1990). This is where our greatness lives! After all, at elite athletic performance levels, everyone’s fit, everyone’s strong, everyone’s technically skilled and tactically astute.

Mindfulness is the difference! And it can be your difference maker!

The next natural question is, “How does it specifically help our athletic performance?”

Here’s a quick list:

1. Helps to control performance anxiety

2. Improves focus, awareness, and concentration

3. Improves emotional regulation

4. Reduces the mind from ruminating

5. Reduces fear of failure

6. Improves sense of identity and self

7. Increases confidence

8. Increases resiliency and mental toughness

9. Increases tolerance to discomfort and pain

10. Goal attainment, grittiness 


But maybe the most important benefit of mindfulness is that it assists in creating a healthier relationship with competition and our sport. Through mindfulness, we enjoy the moment and are grateful for the experience in and of itself.   

Because mindfulness NEEDS to be trained daily, like any other skill or technique, here’s a quick list of specific mindfulness-based interventions to incorporate into daily training routines:

1. Breath-work

2. Body scans

3. Visualization

4. Yoga

5. Sports-specific Meditation

6. Gratitude/Appreciation

7. Internal and external messaging

Give it a try! And remember, like everything in life…

1. practice makes progress!

2. There are no quick fixes!

Athletic mindfulness just might be the key you need to unlock your greatest athletic superpower, your mind!


Tim Bennett
S|R Ambassador
Director of Coach & Player Education for Trace
Certified Mental Performance Coach


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