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The True Athlete Project: Using mindfulness to improve the experience of sport

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The True Athlete Project: Using mindfulness to improve the experience of sport

“Traditional views of sport emphasise strength, but mindfulness helps us to view it as a balance of strength and sensitivity.”

Sport can provide a beautiful – and at times, life changing – experience. However, we sometimes forget that some people’s experience with sport is negative, even destructive.

As Sam Parfitt, founder of The True Athlete Project, explains: “Through my own playing career I saw the wonderful joy that comes from sport but at the same time how harmful it can be: discrimination, bullying, burnout, intense parenting on the sidelines and coaches with the wrong focus.

Formed in January 2015, the True Athlete Project aims to address this. It uses meditation, sport psychology, creative expression, tai-chi, mentoring and more to improve athletes' experience, optimise their performance and transform the culture of sport coaching.

At the centre of this is the concept of mindfulness. Interest in mindfulness has grown recently, but it remains somewhat misunderstood.

Mindful meditation involves sitting and practicing the skill of returning your focus to breathing or to the sensations of the body,” explains Sam. “Gradually it can become more dynamic, from a body scan to a mindful walk, even a mindful run…You’re training yourself to have a relaxed focus in the face of increasing difficulty. It means that when an issue arises in a race, or with a teammate, or in life more generally, this focused attitude and ability becomes part of your instinctive response.”

Through mindfulness, participants learn to notice when their focus has drifted away, and return to their breathing and body.

In a match, damaging thoughts and stories can fill players’ heads. Thoughts like “I can’t beat my opponent,” which can easily spiral into more destructive statements, like “My coach will drop me from the team” or “Everyone’s disappointed with me.” Practicing mindfulness helps people defeat negativity by focusing on the task at hand.

Mindfulness can improve personal wellbeing, but it also has a huge effect on sport performance. This helps the True Athlete Project to sell the concept to coaches, who are often sceptical of alternative approaches to training.

It’s easy to view mindfulness as a tool for improved performance,” explains Sam. “It not only reduces stress, and improves sleep, memory, empathy, academic performance and even immune system functioning….It also allows us to focus on the moment. To be ‘in the zone’ is the holy grail in sport. Coaches understand this. You don’t have to call it ‘mindfully aware’ or a ‘meditative state’ but being mindful means being completely engaged in the present, and flexible to the unfolding moment so that we can make good decisions with mind and body. Traditional views of sport emphasise strength but mindfulness helps us to view it as a balance of strength and sensitivity.”

The True Athlete Project wants mindfulness to be a strategy that coaches have in their toolkit to provide a more wholesome, profound, happy experience of sport. There is no end to the social good this could achieve. When you have a child in the moment, enjoying the sport, they’re more likely to keep playing, and keep learning sport’s valuable lessons including, Sam hopes, how to be compassionate, powerful and engaged citizens who can change the world.

The True Athlete Project has so far run workshops, classes and pilot studies in the south of the U.S. An upcoming class will take place in New York and a retreat is planned for Costa Rica on 5-10 January. The aim is to soon share the concept globally. Reach out to Sam at thetrueathleteproject@gmail.com if you want to get involved!

 

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News

Author

Paul Hunt

Published

Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - 23:00