Breathing and Performance In Sports

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Learning to be mindful is simply another way of being aware of your thoughts and the first step in being mindful is connecting breathing and performance.  It is common to go about any athletic and life endeavor mindless or unaware of what we are thinking.  The first step in being mindful involves understanding that your brain is constantly thinking.  The reason this is important in sport or performance is because split second decisions can make or break a performance.  Learning to be mindful or aware is a step by step process.  Here is a summary of the four basic premises of how to be mindful:

  1. Awareness of Breath.
  2. Awareness of Feelings/Sensations in your body.
  3. Awareness of the mind and thoughts.
  4. Awareness of a Universal truth.

Young manBreathing and Performance

This article will concentrate on the first premise: awareness of breath.  Breathing is the most essential tool and is always available for you to utilize.  Learning to become aware of the power of simply focusing on breathing can change your approach to any task. Here is how you do this:
A simple first step in practicing this is to pick a time during your performance to actively take 2-3 deep slow breathes.

Some examples:
Sport/Situation                                                 Situation for Breathing
Golf                                                                       2 breathes before a shot
Track                                                                     2 breathes before the start of your event
Softball                                                                 2 breathes before stepping up to the plate
Basketball                                                           2 breathes before a free throw
Swimming                                                           2 breathes before stepping up on the blocks
Dance                                                                   2 breathes before the start of the routine
Frustration at performance                         2 breathes to redirect your attention

Breathing and Performance: How do I practice this?

The second step in practicing breathing awareness takes 5-10 minutes of daily practice.  It is an active sitting meditation where you focus just on the action of breathing. Here is how you do this practice:
Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair and set a timer.  Begin with 3 centering breaths-deep inhale and slow exhale.  Then begin to name your inhale as “breathing in” and name your exhale as “breathing out”.  Each and every breath you name “in” and “out”. Quickly you will begin to notice thoughts arising.  The practice is to simply name the thoughts, “I am thinking,” and bring your attention back to your breath and name the in and out breath.  Continue for 5-10 minutes.

Why should I practice breathing? Does it really affect my performance?

Practicing breathing is important because you only have ½ -1 seconds to redirect your mind at any given moment.  With that small of a window the power of the breath becomes vital to your success.  Taking a deep breath gives you a moment of pause to decide how to react.
The ability to be AWARE of your thoughts and to redirect your mind will support your mental program in exponential ways. This is the foundation of mindfulness training and the key component that will support your mental growth as a performer.  This short 10 minute sitting meditation seems simple to do, but what you learn quickly is that it is difficult and requires much practice to master.  Practicing this exercise daily will strengthen your mental muscle and make the short ½-1 seconds window of response time feel bigger and more accessible to you.

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