Rio 2016. It’s not London 2012 (my Dad isn’t proudly modelling his volunteer’s uniform for a start) but you’ve gotta love having the Olympics back on our screens this summer.
We’re only on about day 6 (I’ve lost count already!) so I’m sure there is still lots of excitement ahead of us (especially when the athletics gets underway) but my favourite moment so far was undoubtedly Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow winning Bronze in the synchro 10m diving. As they were interviewed afterwards they both spoke of staying “in the moment” at crucial times in the competition and it struck me how mindfulness may have played a part in their success. Daley particularly seemed to emphasise this point of staying grounded in the present.
A bit of googling and I was patting myself on the back for spotting Daley’s new mindful ways. In an interview with the Telegraph last month he said:
“Every morning I do 10 minutes of mindfulness where I do meditation and I use that in competition and every day life…I started doing it at the beginning of this year and I’ve done it every day since. It’s helped me massively and I feel like that’s one of the reasons why this year I’ve been the most consistent that I’ve been in competition. I’m getting better and better in being able to zone in on what I need to focus on.”
Now mindfulness in sport is not a massively new thing. As a US track and field athlete once said “you have to train your mind like you train your body”. I love telling my students that English rugby player Jonny Wilkinson has described mindfulness as his “secret weapon” (something I learned when I did my Mindfulness in Schools Project .b teaching course earlier this year – learn more about this excellent organisation here ). Ditto Novak Djokovic who said in his 2013 book ‘Serve to Win’ that he practices mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes every day.
Djokovic says that meditation has enabled him to let go of negative emotions such as self-doubt, anger and worry, and that this has made all the difference to his mental approach on court. He sees mindfulness training as just as important as his physical training, and believes that dedicated regular meditation practice leads to consistent positive rewards (cited in Huff post article here).
However, it’s always nice to talk to the students about people practicing mindfulness who they can really relate too and Tom Daley definitely fits that bill. Kobe Bryant is a famous NBA basketball player in the States and another athlete who in happy to talk about his mindfulness practice but many of us in the UK don’t know much about him and so his story, though interesting, is not so inspiring to our youngsters.
So which other mindful Olympians may you wish to point out to your offspring over the next couple of weeks?
- The US cyclist Kelly Catlin has said that she wishes she had learned to be mindful along time ago. In a recent interview which you can read here she says: “Next time you’re doing something painful or unpleasant, don’t think about how much you’d rather be doing something else, think about the sensations. I guarantee the time will not only go by faster, but that you’ll get that extra ten-percent out of whatever you’re doing.”
- The British tennis play Johanna Konta who is currently the UK’s female no. 1 is also said to use Mindfulness techniques to help her with her game. Last year she spoke to the Times journalist Barry Flatman (article here) about how her success can be attributed to “living in the present”.
- The US Volley Ball pair Kerry Walsh and April Ross believe they are “a different team” since picking up this meditation habit. According to comments recorded here Walsh says “In the most competitive moments where you can tighten up and kind of separate from your partner, we just paused and breathed. And now there’s a patience to us even when we’re playing great”.
As I’ve mentioned before there is nothing new about bringing Mindfulness to Olympians; for instance Jon Kabat-Zinn worked with the US Olympic rowing team in 1984. However, what is new is that people are increasingly willing to talk about it.
So I would hazard a guess that there are lots more professional sportspeople engaging in Mindfulness practice in Rio right now, they’re just not telling us about it…. yet.
So what can we do with this knowledge? Exploring mindfulness in sport and discussing some of the case studies outlined above with our children is an important way of normalising a practice that is so alien to so many of us in the 21st century. It can also help to remove the stigma that may be connected with Mindfulness and the misconception that it is only used for the treatment of mental health problems. Knowing that people like Tom Daley are engaging in mindful meditation everyday can only encourage more of us, including the younger generation, to give it a…don’t you think?