At first glance, basketball and meditation seem like they couldn’t be further apart. One is an ancient practice with roots found in the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, the other a massively popular sport played all around the globe. But the truth is that regular meditation can bring a marked improvement in athletic performance.
If you are a bit skeptical about mindfulness and meditation, that’s understandable. However, recognize that Phil Jackson, one of the NBA’s most successful coaches of all time had his players from both the Bulls and the Lakers practice mindful meditation on a regular basis. Here’s a bit about what he had to say in regard to meditation and coaching:
Maybe the most fascinating effect that meditation has on the mind is that it actually has the ability to change the structure of the brain. Harvard researchers discovered that after only eight weeks of mindful meditation, the activation of the right amygdala (an area of the brain associated with emotional stability, stress regulation, and anxiety) was decreased when shown both negative and positive images.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the other researched benefits of meditation and how they can have a positive impact on basketball players in general.
In the crunch time of basketball games, it is most often the more mentally prepared basketball teams that prevail. This takes the ability to maintain focus and be able to overcome the fear of “the moment.” Meditation helps players to be less fearful and not become overwhelmed by the situation at hand. If you see your players making uncharacteristic mistakes during critical in-game moments, then meditation will likely help your players to remain calm and make quality process-based decisions no matter what the game of basketball throws at them.
Every basketball coach wants resilient basketball players. While some old school coaches think that yelling at and demeaning players will “toughen ’em up,” the truth is that these ideas will only create anxiety and resentment. However, mindful meditation has been scientifically shown to build resilience. By using mindfulness, players will be able to rebound faster from failures and not become too big-headed from their successes.
Improved sleep is one of the commonly noted benefits of those who meditate regularly. I think that as basketball coaches and players we underestimate the importance of quality sleep and how it impacts athletic performance. When basketball players get good, quality sleep it equates to an average improvement of 9% from both the free throw line and three point shots!
Hopefully, mindful meditation and its positive impact on athletic performance has become clearer. To put this into practice here is a brief step-by-step guide on how to practice mindfulness meditation. Try to have your players do this meditation 5 minutes a day to start, maybe at the end of every practice and before every game. After your players get used to the meditating increase the time of each session to 10-15 minutes.
Mindfulness Meditation Guide:
- Find a spot to sit- whether a chair, bench, or the floor. Find a space where you can sit straight up without slouching.
- Cross your legs if sitting on the floor or put both feet flat on the floor if sitting in a chair.
- Sit with good posture- Sit straight up but remain relaxed. Take out any tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Place your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Allow your hands to lay atop of your legs naturally.
- Drop your chin slightly and slowly close your eyes.
- While in meditation make sure that your body is relaxed.
- Take deep breaths and be sure to focus on your breathing. After a little while allow your mind to drift and flow to wherever it chooses. Don’t worry about judging or obsessing over the thoughts. Just let your thoughts be.
Nick Daniels is nationally certified school psychologist and the founder of BestOutdoorBasketball.net, a site that offers basketball-related product reviews as well as tips to improve your game. As a lifelong player of the game, Nick specializes in in the domains of sports psychology, shooting, basketball theory, and maximizing talent.