No More Excuses, It's Time for You to Embrace Mindfulness

In today's landscape, mindfulness and meditation have transcended their niche origins to become widely embraced practices, advocated not only by high-performance athletes and leaders but also by individuals from all walks of life. Extensive research underscores their myriad benefits, including:

  •  Heightened focus and attention
  •  Reduced stress
  •  Enhanced mental and physical well-being
  •  Improved sleep
  •  Increased self-control

However, it's important to recognize that this widespread acceptance is a relatively recent development. Rewind to the 1990s when Phil Jackson assumed the role of head coach for the Chicago Bulls. Mindfulness was far from mainstream; it was viewed as unconventional, even eccentric. Moreover, Jackson lacked the extensive championship credentials that often lend authority to novel approaches in professional sports. Nonetheless, with the guidance of psychologist George Mumford, he not only introduced mindfulness but also integrated it as a daily ritual for his athletes. Remarkably, legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant became regular practitioners, attributing mindfulness as a cornerstone of their success.

Surprisingly, despite these success stories, mindfulness remains underutilized within many sports teams today. When probing coaches about this reluctance, common excuses emerge: doubts about athlete receptiveness and time constraints. Yet, through my own experience consulting and coaching coaches, I've identified deeper reasons behind this hesitancy:

And yet, mindfulness practice is not common practice within sports teams today. When I ask coaches why they often reason that they don't feel athletes will take it seriously or they have enough time to take a few minutes before practice. I'm not buying these excuses anymore though. I've found these to be the real reasons coaches don't practice with their team:

1. Lack of Personal Practice: Coaches often shy away from teaching mindfulness because they themselves lack a consistent practice themselves. To foster a culture of mindfulness within their teams, coaches must first cultivate their own practice and confidence in its benefits.

2. Lack of Application: Misguided notions persist about mindfulness being confined to traditional meditation practices. In a recent conversation with Dr. Amanda Blake on the Coaching Culture Podcast, too many people believe it's about doing your meditation sitting cross legged on the floor. It's about active engagement in the present moment. Jackson didn't just put mindfulness in action as a leader, he would help his athletes to do this. As he says in Eleven Rings, “To increase his [Toni Kukoc] level of mindfulness, I developed a special form of sign language to help us communicate with each other during games. If he strayed from the system, I’d give him a look and I expected him to give me a sign of acknowledgement.”

3. Mental Comfort Zone: Many coaches and athletes are more comfortable with difficult physical training than mental conditioning. While sweating it out or engaging in physical activities can alleviate stress, mindfulness isn't about clearing your head, it's about learning to pay attention to your attention.

Enough with the excuses. The time has come to embrace mindfulness without overcomplicating the process:

Step 1: Download a mindfulness app like Headspace or Waking Up (or watch this youtube video) and start practicing.

Step 2: Implement simple mindfulness rituals, such as the "One Breath, One Mind" practice, to kickstart meetings, practices, and games with your team.

Step 3: As mindfulness becomes ingrained, apply it beyond the field or court—use it in everyday interactions and to support individuals, fostering a culture of awareness and support. Here is an article to help with communicating with emotional athletes.

Embracing mindfulness isn't just a game-changer for athletic performance—it's a life-changer. As exemplified by former player John Salley's ongoing use of mindfulness in his personal and parental life, its benefits extend far beyond the realm of sports. In an interview with Phil Jackson, former player John Salley shares how their daily practice at the Bulls still helps them today, "I still use [mindfulness] in my life as an adult and as a parent." 

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