Meditation and Mindfulness - An Athlete’s Guide to Positive Mental Health

The nerves one might have in the night leading up to a game, a race, a match, or any athletic competition is an unparalleled feeling. It might have you tossing and turning in bed, replaying your mistakes from the last outing, or it might have you jittery and unfocused — worried about what may happen the next day. These nerves definitely don’t go away overnight and are usually more intense in the hours leading up to the event. 

While many athletes use their nerves to their advantage and use it to fuel them, drive them, motivate them, and even frighten them into performing better, there is another way to deal with the snowball of nerves that arrive the day or days before a competition. 

Meditation and mindfulness exercises can actually go a long way in reinforcing positive mental health, confidence, and can help calm nerves before a big game without ridding you of those nerves that you may use to perform better. I didn’t start practicing meditation and mindfulness training until long after my track and competitive athletic days were over, however, I wish I did these mental exercises while I was still an active competitor. 

Here are five ways that meditation and mindfulness exercises may improve an athlete’s mental health which will lead to an increase in confidence, focus, and thus translate into improved physical performance: 

  1. Become Aware of Your Emotions:

    Growing up, I was aware of the generic, stereotypical “monk-like” meditative training of simply focusing on your breath. To be honest, I never saw the use in that, as it is extremely hard to clear your mind of any thoughts. However, recently I was given more insight into the value of this type of training. Staying centered on the out-breath and maintaining focus on normal breathing is key. However, the point is to not clear your mind of thoughts. The real value of this exercise comes from letting your thoughts and emotions become clear to you. This is useful in any situation in life. From an athlete’s perspective, it is useful to focus on breathing and let whichever thoughts form in your mind stay put until you’ve processed them. Being aware of one’s emotions will help calm nerves and minimize fear of the unknown which is especially handy because every athlete fears making a mistake in the upcoming game or match. Acknowledging one’s fears and emotions, positive or negative, will help calm the nerves and maintain focus. 

  2.  Stay in the Moment:

    One of the biggest problems I had before racing was staying focused and present. That is not to say I wasn’t determined and focused on my goals and always ran as fast as I could. What this means is that sometimes it was hard for me to stay in the present and appreciate where I was and what was happening, which in turn affected my focus. For example, before or after a race, or during practice I was always focused on the past or future. When I wasn’t replaying mistakes that had already happened, I was looking ahead to future races or events. To put it simply, I hated being in this mindset, but I wasn’t sure how to solve it. It wasn’t until I turned to meditation and mindfulness exercises way later that I learned, and am still learning, how to remain more focused on the present and not look ahead or behind. By practicing breathing exercises and focusing on physical sensations — things you see, feel, hear, or smell — it makes it easier to focus on the present and remind your mind and body where it is at the current moment. I found this mindfulness in the present to be extremely helpful in increasing focus, concentration, and overall more joy in being in the moment. 

  3. Increase Patience 

    A big issue for many athletes, myself included, is that of patience. It is natural for one to want to be the best at what they do overnight, or to immediately heal from an injury, or to speed through an unfavorable practice. I suffered a few leg and hip injuries during my time running track, and the hardest times I faced as a former athlete was the time I spent recovering. I wasn’t able to participate in practice, and I wanted nothing more than to rush through my injury and return to the track as quickly as possible. On top of that, I would always find myself antsy during track meets, impatiently waiting for my events to start, as they were usually towards the middle/end of the eight hour meets. Meditation can be extremely helpful in increasing one’s patience. Being more patient can calm nerves and increase focus. Patience is very important when dealing with an injury as well, because if physical rehab is rushed, it can lead to further and more severe injuries and setbacks. Patience should be a key part of an athlete's life, as one does not become a star at a sport overnight. It takes time, practice, dedication, and patience. 

  4. Clear Your Mind

    While clearing your mind free of thoughts and complex emotions is not the central idea of meditation and is often a misconception, it is a small element of mindfulness training. To begin this training, simply sit in a comfortable but alert position, close your eyes or maintain a soft-focus, and focus on breathing and physical sensations. This practice applies to the lessons above, but this is also key for trying to temporarily relieve your mind of thoughts. If a thought pops up, don’t immediately try to push it out of your mind. Rather, simply return to the breath and focus on the physical sensations around you. The point of this kind of training is to try to clear your mind, but if you have trouble and find yourself thinking about random thoughts, you are doing so in a judgment-free way, reinforced with compassion and self-understanding. 

  5. Reduce Stress and Anxiety 

    Finally, when putting all of these lessons and mindfulness training exercises together, the final result will also lead to a huge decrease in stress and anxiety, which is not only present in an athlete’s life but is present in every single person’s life. When practicing these exercises and focusing on breathing and becoming aware of your emotions and thoughts, it is a lot easier to stay in the moment and be appreciative of your surroundings. Mental health exercises are as important as physical ones. Reducing stress, anxiety, and learning to live your life free of self-judgment is key to living a healthy life and building positive relationships not just with others, but with yourself as well. 

Works Cited

Giselle, Says, S. S., Colclough, S. S., Says, Y. D., Dunia, Y., How to Get Started with Toddler Yoga | Kids Yoga Stories says:, . . . The Most Important Thing We Can Do Right Now - Kids Yoga Stories | Yoga resources for kids says:. (2021, January 18). 5 Breathing Exercises for Kids for Calm and Focus ( Free Poster). Retrieved from 

Simon, S. (2020, June 02). Take a Moment With Meditation. Retrieved June 9, 2021, from 

Tag: Patience. (2015, November 10). Retrieved June 9, 2021, from 


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