Mindfulness in the NFL
Yes, mindfulness as part of sports psychology programming is being used in the NFL. Yes, big and physically tough football players are being helped via a mindfulness component of sports psychology. There are some important roots here. Dogen, the famous ancient Japanese Buddhist meditation master, brought Chan Buddhism from China to Japan thus initiating Zen Buddhism there. One of Dogen’s famous statements was that enlightenment/awakening itself occurs every time you realize that your attention has wondered and you need to return attention back to your object of meditation. Therefore, paying and returning keen attention to any object of attention – the football players on the opposing team – has significance here. Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism from India to China, noted that meditation includes being in and with your mind as sacred space. The sacred space of mind in meditation can occur no matter what you are doing and no matter where you are doing it. Yes, even on an NFL playing field. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is behind all this. The Super Bowl winners use mindfulness skills to quiet their minds in the midst of distraction. This is the basis of strongly focusing on what is right in front of you in the present moment, and doing your best to support your team’s effort here and now. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory is also at play. Carroll and his sports psychology specialists use individual differences in personal strengths and self-actualization to nurture individual players to push their unique skills as part of a cohesive team effort. The idea is not to focus on an outcome, but to bring your best competitive energy and skills to this moment on the field. Compassion for players and use of their personal strengths in a mindful manner most often leads to success. Mindfulness, compassion, and skill enhancement are used to reduce players’ fears and self-doubts. Being physically and psychologically ready requires much practice and a still/quiet mind.
Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist with mindfulness training supports Carroll’s efforts. Players require full presence and complete attention in the present moment of the play. Gervais uses various breathing techniques, visualizations, and imagery practices to develop tactical meditative states. Mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral approaches are being used to prepare players in physical, psychological and spiritual ways; it is about building individual confidence, improving attentional skills, and reducing negative self-talk while in the game. Players require a quiet mind, inner confidence, and focus to see with greater clarity. Part of the team thinking, feeling, and experiencing includes sensitive interpersonal and relational components that may look more like therapeutics than typical coaching. Another aspect of this approach uses First Nations concepts and processes: the long body. In this approach individual consciousness is molded and trained so individual members of the group becomes one. An intuitive feel for compassion for others implies each person is to serve the others on the team, thus making stronger integrated effort and energy. Having a successful NFL team use mindfulness as a core sports psychology component of training is certainly in keeping with the mindfulness revolution.
For more information refer to Delehanty, H. (December 22, 2014). The game changer. www.mindful.org/the-game-changer. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness