Mindfulness is Associated with Improved Athletic Psychology in Elite Athletes
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Meditation is becoming popular for many reasons, especially related to health. Athletes are also taking up the practice more and more because research has shown that meditation can be used as a tool to manage pain, decrease anxiety and improve focus.” – Kris Eiring
Athletic performance requires the harmony of mind and body. Excellence is in part physical and in part psychological. Without inheriting an athletic body and without many hours of training the individual will never reach an elite level. But, once there, the difference between winning and losing is psychological. That is why an entire profession of Sports Psychology has developed. “In sport psychology, competitive athletes are taught psychological strategies to better cope with a number of demanding challenges related to psychological functioning.” They use a number of techniques to enhance performance including anxiety or energy management, attention and concentration control (focusing), communication, goal setting, imagery, visualization, mental practice, self-talk, controlling negative emotions, team building, time management/organization.
Mindfulness training has been shown to enhance a number of the characteristics that are taught by Sports Psychologists. Mindfulness training improves attention and concentration and emotion regulation and reduces anxiety and worry and rumination, and the physiological and psychological responses to stress. As a result, mindfulness training, including meditation and yoga practices, have been employed by elite athletes and even by entire teams to enhance their performance. There have been, however, very few empirical tests of the efficacy of mindfulness training to enhance elite athletes’ performance or the mechanism of action.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Mechanisms in Sports: Mediating Effects of Rumination and Emotion Regulation on Sport-Specific Coping.” (See summary below), Josefsson and colleagues examined the relationship of mindfulness effects on rumination and emotion regulation on athletic performance. They recruited a large sample of elite High School athletes from a variety of sports and requested that they complete measures of mindfulness, rumination, emotion regulation, and athletic coping skills. They analyzed the obtained data with correlation techniques and a sophisticated statistical technique called path analysis.
They found that, as has previous studies, that the higher the levels of mindfulness of the athletes the lower the levels of rumination and the higher the levels of emotion regulation. They also found with path analysis that mindfulness levels were associated with better athletic coping skills in two ways, directly and indirectly through mindfulness’ relationships with rumination and emotion regulation. In other words, the higher the levels of mindfulness the better the athletic coping skills. This occurred by a direct relationship of mindfulness on athletic coping skills and also due to the mindfulness’ association with lower rumination and improved emotion regulation and their relationships with improved athletic coping skills.
This study was correlational and causation cannot be determined. But the results suggest that mindfulness is an important asset for the elite athlete. They further suggest that mindfulness may enhance athletic performance by improving the athletes ability to cope with their emotions and by decreasing worry and rumination. It remains for future studies to actively train athletes in mindfulness skills and determine if emotion regulation, rumination, athletic coping skills, and athletic performance are enhanced. Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness skills help and athlete cope with the psychological demands of elite athletic performance.
“The application of mindfulness to sport performance has recently become a popular research endeavor. By enhancing current moment awareness, a critical component of peak sport performance, some research has suggested that mindfulness exercises can help to generate “flow”, or a state of complete focus on the task or event at hand . . . mindfulness-based interventions for sports are effective because they help athletes direct their attention to the current athletic task, while minimizing external distractions.” – Mitch Plemmons
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Torbjörn Josefsson, Andreas Ivarsson, Magnus Lindwall, Henrik Gustafsson, Andreas Stenling, Jan Böröy, Emil Mattsson, Jakob Carnebratt, Simon Sevholt, Emil Falkevik. Mindfulness Mechanisms in Sports: Mediating Effects of Rumination and Emotion Regulation on Sport-Specific Coping. Mindfulness (2017). doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0711-4
The main objective of the project was to examine a proposed theoretical model of mindfulness mechanisms in sports. We conducted two studies (the first study using a cross-sectional design and the second a longitudinal design) to investigate if rumination and emotion regulation mediate the relation between dispositional mindfulness and sport-specific coping. Two hundred and forty-two young elite athletes, drawn from various sports, were recruited for the cross-sectional study. For the longitudinal study, 65 elite athletes were recruited. All analyses were performed using Bayesian statistics. The path analyses showed credible indirect effects of dispositional mindfulness on coping via rumination and emotion regulation in both the cross-sectional study and the longitudinal study. Additionally, the results in both studies showed credible direct effects of dispositional mindfulness on rumination and emotion regulation. Further, credible direct effects of emotion regulation as well as rumination on coping were also found in both studies. Our findings support the theoretical model, indicating that rumination and emotion regulation function as essential mechanisms in the relation between dispositional mindfulness and sport-specific coping skills. Increased dispositional mindfulness in competitive athletes (i.e. by practicing mindfulness) may lead to reductions in rumination, as well as an improved capacity to regulate negative emotions. By doing so, athletes may improve their sport-related coping skills, and thereby enhance athletic performance.