When you think of soccer development, most likely you don’t think of mindfulness training, but maybe you should. The brain is literally the soccer player’s supercomputer on and off the field; if you want to become a great player you will need a great brain. The potential for developing the brain in an athletic context is still in the infant stages compared to developing the body. There are only so many ways a fitness coach can continue to get players bigger, faster and stronger, but the development of the brain and the Soccer IQ is a new unexplored frontier. Mindfulness training is an excellent way to develop the brain with many of the benefits being directly transferable to athletic performance. Mindfulness teaches people to live and perform only in the present moment; they are able to set aside all their feelings from the past and the future and just be in the present. If feelings of stress or fear arise, the mindful athlete will acknowledge those feelings and just let them pass, this allows them to stay focused in the now. If an athlete becomes to stressed about expectations and performance, they lose the ability to problem solve and make intelligent fast decisions. Coventry University & Staffordshire University found that athlete’s who experienced a fear of failure, increased stress and high anxiety levels all showed negative affects on athletic performance. However, athletes that trained in mindfulness were more likely to experience “flow” or the feeling of being in the moment, which is linked to enhanced athletic performance. These mindful athletes also scored higher in attention control, emotional control, positive self-talk and goal setting. The practice of Mindfulness trains the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which helps with focus and distraction avoidance, allowing us to perform at our top level. Mindfulness in simply terms, allows a person to calm the stress response and perform in the moment. From a scientific standpoint, it has been shown that cortisol levels (stress hormone) are reduced as a result of consistent mindful meditation practice. Training mindfulness in athletic and non-athletic settings is very important for athletes. Incorporating elements like crowd noise, live spectators, competitions, changing field conditions and inconsistent officiating in training can all help players train mindfulness in realistic challenging game like situations. The brain is like a muscle, the more we train it, the stronger it gets. Research on mindfulness training in relation to athletic performance clearly shows improved physical and mental performance for those trained in mindfulness. In fact, cross country runners who underwent mindfulness along with their regular physical training reported large improvements in their mile times.
Another interesting connection mindfulness has to sports performance is that it is proven to increase the brains Working Memory. We know that Working Memory helps soccer player’s organize information, provides them with solutions to problems on the field instantly and top players have more solutions in their working memory then lower level players. The fact that mindfulness training can help players come up with faster and better solutions on the field is very important to overall player development. Below are a few simple ways you introduce mindfulness training to your team.
1) Mindful Breathing: Spend a few minutes a day just breathing and paying attention to your breath, which will bring about a clam mind. You can do this pretty much anywhere, just be sure to stay calm and inhale and exhale fully. Focus on your breath only. Start with a few minutes and increase from there.
2) Body Scan: The body scan exercise is especially useful for athletes. This exercise will release the body’s tension, settle the mind and bring overall awareness to your body. Start by lying down on your back with palms up and torso relaxed. Close your eyes and start by noticing how your toes feel, then work your way up your entire body taking notice of how every region of your body feels. Focus your attention for a few breaths on every part of your body and move on. If you find areas in the body that are feeling stressed, focus on relaxing and breathing the tension out. The longer you practice this exercise the more in tune with your body you will become.
3) Mindfulness In Soccer Motion: When you are working with the ball or playing a small-sided game in practice, focus on your breathing and being only in the present moment. Let yourself perform while you in the moment.
Human beings take around 20,000 breaths a day. That allows 20,000 chances a day for mindfulness training!
If you are interested in becoming a Cognitive Soccer Instructor. You can sign-up for the Cognitive Soccer Instructors Online Diploma Course at www.soccersmarttraining.com – the course is $45 and the modules can be purchased on amazon.com via hard copy or ebook