Improve Athletic Performance with Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment Therapy

Improve Athletic Performance with Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment Therapy


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The crowd gets quiet, and the moment starts to become the moment for me . . . that’s part of that Zen Buddhism stuff. Once you get into the moment, you know when you are there. Things start to move slowly, you start to see the court very well. You start reading what the defense is trying to do.” – Michael Jordan


Athletic performance requires the harmony of mind and body. Excellence is in part physical and in part 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 mindfulness training. It has been shown to improve 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 has been employed by athletes and even by entire teams to enhance their performance.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy technique that focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how they interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. Additionally, it teaches individuals to “just notice”, accept and embrace private experiences and focus on behavioral responses that produce more desirable outcomes. It would seem that ACT would be an excellent practice to improve athletic performance


In today’s Research News article “Effectiveness of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach on athletic performance and sports competition anxiety: a randomized clinical trial. Electronic Physician.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Dehghani and colleagues examine the ability of a mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based program to improve the performance of women basketball players. They recruited college female basketball players between the ages of 18 to 30 years and randomly assigned them to receive either 8, 1.5-hour sessions of a mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based program or a waitlist control condition. The women were measured before and after treatment for self-evaluated sports performance, acceptance or avoidance of internal experiences, and sports competition anxiety.


They found that in comparison to the baseline and the control group the women who received the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based program had significantly higher scores for sports performance (57% higher), and lower scores for experiential avoidance and sports anxiety (29% and 47% lower respectively). Hence the treated participants were markedly improved in the psychological readiness to compete and their sports performance.


It should be noted that the women in the control condition did not receive any treatment. In addition, there were no objective measures of athletic performance. Future research should compare the effectiveness of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based program to another active intervention, perhaps yoga practice or cognitive behavioral therapy. This would better control for potential research contamination. It should also provide objective measures of performance in athletic competition.


Mindfulness practices are well documented to lower anxiety levels and physiological and psychological responses to stress. In addition, learning to accept experiences and not attempt to avoid them would better prepare an athlete to consciously confront the sports situations that they are engaged in. Both of these components of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based program then would be expected to improve an athletes mental and physical performance.


So, improve athletic performance with mindfulness-acceptance-commitment therapy.


“I approached it with mindfulness. As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up… so we can focus… so we can be in concert with one another.” – Phil Jackson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Dehghani, M., Saf, A. D., Vosoughi, A., Tebbenouri, G., & Zarnagh, H. G. (2018). Effectiveness of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach on athletic performance and sports competition anxiety: a randomized clinical trial. Electronic Physician, 10(5), 6749–6755.




Improving sports performance and reducing anxiety is one of the most important goals of athletes. Recurrence of symptoms and treatment cessation are common problems with common interventions. Approaches based on mindfulness-acceptance-commitment (MAC) can be a response to these limitations


The main purpose of the present study was to determine effectiveness of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach to athletic performance enhancement and sports competition anxiety in students who have had athletic experience for 3 to 5 years.


This randomized clinical trial was conducted at the Faculty of Educational Sciences of Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, from May 1, 2017 to September 15, 2017. A total of 31 students were randomly assigned to experimental (n=15) and control groups (n=16). The experimental group received the protocol Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) for 8 sessions. Subjects completed the Charbonneau Sports Performance Questionnaire, Action and Acceptance Questionnaire (AAQ) and Sports Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) Questionnaire. Data analysis was conducted by using multivariate covariance analysis (MANCOVA) by SPSS-22.


The results of the study indicated that the MAC approach increases significantly the performance of basketball playing athletes (p<0.05). Furthermore, the MAC approach decreases significantly experiential avoidance and sports anxiety in athletes (p<0.05). The size of the difference between the groups is moderate (Eta squared).


This study revealed that the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach is an effective intervention to increasing athletic performance and reducing experiential avoidance and sports anxiety in athletes.

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