Athletes face various challenges in their career on and off the sports field. I feel that a greater knowledge of the conceptualization of mindfulness and its impact on psychological skills could truly shift the way athletes maintain and even improve performance before, during, and after game time. In the unforgiving environment of professional sports, dysfunctional thinking can impact and interfere with performance.
When working with professional athletes, I love collaborating with my clients to develop specific strategies to address dysfunctional thinking patterns and other challenges. Coping strategies offer athletes additional psychological opportunities to enhance his or her chances of performing at his or her highest level under very demanding, stressful, and sometimes even hostile conditions.
Before going any further in this blog post, I believe it is important to give credit to where credit it is due. Mindfulness is popular and used generously among mental health professionals as treatment for a variety of mental health disorders, including most notably, anxiety and trauma-related disorders. My two personal favorite types of Mindfulness interventions are Mindfulness Based- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I was first introduced to Dr. Kabat-Zinn and MBSR in graduate school. Although I attended Stony Brook University, I was offered the opportunity to enroll in a research-based elective, dually offered by Columbia University and it's Advanced Consortium on "Evidence Based Practices", and in reflection, I am so happy I accepted the opportunity!
High performance athletes can experience a variety of performance-inhibiting stressors. Most frequently, my clients come to session and process topics that induce stress such as: unrealistic expectations because of perfectionism, competition anxiety, anger and other negative emotions, fear of failure, perceived pressure, and avoidance behavior. Additionally, other factors that can negatively impact performance include: having an avoidant coping style, interpersonal problems, or life-balance difficulties.
However, similar to the most successful surgeons, athletes have the distinct superpower to transform stressors automatically into fuel in order to meet the specific demands of the game. In other words, athletes use this automatic process, similar to autopilot as a way to use stress as energy, resulting in enhanced performance. Most frequently this superpower is an alternative label for more well-known defense mechanisms such as "compartmentalization" and "sublimation".
So if athletes have metaphorical black belts in compartmentalizing and channeling emotional and psychological stress into elite performance fuel, why are we focusing on Mindfulness? Mindfulness focuses on changing the function, not the form of behavior, emotion, thinking, or how we experience things. Mindfulness aims to change the relationship of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness has no desire to change the content of those thoughts and emotions. How can this be integrated into elite sports? Perhaps breathing exercises can be introduced in a non-sport setting. Athletes can integrate mindfulness exercises directly during a big play when they focus on the breath or letting go of thoughts of pain or discomfort. One of my favorite techniques is using a body scan exercise. Again, thinking of how this can be woven into the tapestry of sport, a body scan exercise can be easily completed during the cool-down at the end of practice or training.
I don’t want to suggest that using mindfulness will automatically lead to major shifts in performance overnight. But down the road with further inclusion of mental health support in professional sports, I think we will start to see a happier and overall healthier group of professional athletes and role models.
Last Saturday I was so fortunate to take part in a Pure Barre class at the Jacksonville Jaguars Flex Field. The class was led by the owners of the Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra Beach Pure Barre studios and the field was packed! Pure Barre among other activities such as looking for shark teeth, surfing, are just some of the ways I nourish my own wellness. When I am well, I am able to connect with my clients, be more attentive and creative in my work. In taking time to prioritize my own wellness, I am able to be authentic and nurture my razor-sharp ability to attune to the needs of my clients.
Wellness is one of the critical factors in being a mental health care provider. Wellness is especially important because mental health providers are one of the primary instruments in their own work. I feel it is incredibly important to walk the talk when it comes to offering a model of wellness or self care for clients.
There are a variety of existing methods already in place to improve self-care. However, self-awareness is the first step to identify and configure a formula that will work best to create homeostasis between work, play, giving and receiving, accomplishing tasks, and doing absolutely nothing. The key to ongoing and lasting change is to pay attention to you and your body. Whatever profession you are in, the work itself can get in the way of your own wellness. And although you may be full of wellness tips for others, knowledge doesn't always translate into action for yourself. Awareness is the catalyst to change and if you can give yourself permission to change one thing, start small. Perhaps you will decide to change routine on your way home from work by practicing sets of deep breathing at each red light. Or take a moment to go outside just to feel the warmth of your sun on your skin during a bathroom break. How do you incorporate wellness into your routine? Share by leaving a comment below!
It was such an honor to spend time with one of my most beloved musical artists, Mike Love last Friday here in Jacksonville, Florida. Mike's son, Christian performed lead vocals for "God Only Knows" during this performance and it was truly a beautiful moment in time to be part of the experience. Amazing how a musical performance can really pump the breaks on the world as it exists for just a moment.
I came across this AWESOME picture by Michelle Rial the other day. Without hesitation I printed it, framed it, and now get to have this in my office to share with my clients.
I always find a way to incorporate The Beatles into my practice as a therapist and I am delighted to share this with you as well!
Enjoy your Friday and welcome to the month of March!
Hope you are having a great week so far! I want to share one of my most beloved quotes with you. This one is by Alan Cohen:
"Personal growth is not a matter of learning new information but of unlearning old limits"
Re-read it, let it marinate, and give yourself permission to notice where or how the quote "hits" you. Maybe the quote does nothing for you. Maybe it does something for you. Whatever your experience, become an observer just for this moment. What do you notice? Share your thoughts below!
Take a moment to scroll through these photos I took at the Jacksonville Zoo last weekend. And as you scroll through the photos, take just one moment to find one thing you notice about the tiger. Yes, just ONE thing...
Maybe your attention goes to the color of his fur, the detail in his stripes, or maybe you notice your own feelings about the tiger surfacing...
Perhaps by the time you get to the third image and you see the tiger practicing some mindfulness of his own, you will notice that this exercise took less than three swipes and a total of five minutes to do.
Therapy isn't meant to be a life sentence. Learning skills and techniques that you can apply to the real world is what I feel makes therapy a powerful investment.
Grief is not a linear process. Grief changes the various ways we make sense of our world with one less important person in it. When I encounter things such as these John Lennon stamps, I don't think back to the Beatles themselves. My thoughts take me back to warm memories of a beloved best friend and our connection that was founded on the Beatles and their music and I am so grateful for receiving this random yet powerful reminder of her. Find what soothes you and connect to that. Find refuse in your memories.
Generally speaking, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works by breaking down the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes and how these processes relate to how a person behaves (and emotionally responds).
Let’s look at this model from a different lens, or a somatic lens: you experience an event your BODY responds with a feeling (e.g danger, fear, excitement, happiness, pain) feeling gets translated into thought/opinion/memory (e.g Is it safe? Is it going to be painful? Can I get hurt from it? Maybe I should post that selfie to show my ex how I’m thriving) you respond and go from there (aka your behavior)
What’s my point? I hear A LOT of horror stories of folks having their feelings invalidated. Your feelings are so important. YOU are important. And when you are able to identify what you FEEL you can identify the thought and if you can do that, you can do ANYTHING.
Take just one moment of your day to look around and intentionally look at each object in your surroundings. As you focus on one object at a time, see if you can just notice the shape, the color, the size, the texture, maybe even sound.
This is the fun part: as you look at each object individually ask yourself "how would I describe this object to a toddler or to a visitor from a foreign country who does not speak or understand my language?"
Amy Pope-Latham, LCSW is a clinical psychotherapist in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.