Friday, April 3, 2015

Can We "Hook" Teen Athletes on Mindfulness?

I spoke to a group of parents at Belmont Hill on Technology and Mindfulness in February, with this blurb in their parent newsletter:

Technology and Mindfulness Roundtable
With Guest Moderator, Susan Reynolds

Come learn about the ways technology contributes to your teens' quality of life, as both a useful tool and a mindless distraction. As Digital Immigrants parenting Digital Natives, we are the first generation forging this new territory. We need our own set of guidelines, our own Parenting Toolbox. In this interactive workshop, you will learn about the intricacies of the problems teens face, but also solutions including nuts and bolts suggestions for screen times, age appropriate boundaries, and family detox. The broader issues of mindfulness and role modeling will be woven into the discussion

The waiting list for the February date was so long, that they asked me to speak again this month, but I cannot claim any responsibility for this interest. I am not a known entity. I have not written a book, yet, like other speakers who have come to BH. The topic is hot, and it's not just about technology. I was surprised and excited about the group's interest in not only how to parent these digital natives, but how to introduce them to mindfulness. This has been my question as well. How do we "hook" the teens who need mindfulness more than ever, for so many reasons. Many teens know they are stressed, but they fear learning to meditate and be mindful is just going to be one more thing on their "To Do" list. Their desire to meditate and learn mindfulness practices has to be something they feel the "want" to do, not "should" do. In my last entry I questioned whether we needed Mindful SAT and ACT Test Prep.

At Belmont Hill, an all boys school, sports are an important part of the school culture. So how do sports contribute to the Technology Toolbox? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said almost impossible. Then when I talked briefly about the research on the impact of meditation and yoga on athletic skill and performance, the audience wanted more information. I thought, "Perhaps I've found a hook." Parents can be role models for balanced technology use as well as mindfulness practices, but what about coaches and athletes? How can we encourage them to add mindfulness training to the skills and practices athletes are taught in high school? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said

The first step is with the research and examples of famous coaches and players. Kobe Bryant has become a spokesperson for the value of mindfulness, and Phil Jackson says it helps the team focus on the breath and calm the mind, builds focus and attention. "When players practice what is known as mindfulness - simply paying attention to what's actually happening -not only do they play better and wine more, they also become more attuned with each other."  It helps them deal with difficulties and stressful situations not only during athletic feats, but in life. Sports themselves can provide the endorphin rush and physical outlet for this stress, but the mindfulness can to, as well as boost performance and enjoyment of the sport.

Chuck Person praises Phil Jackson when he says, “He teaches you how to find your way in the maze, in the chaos. You can always go back and find yourself with that breath. I’ve learned during anxious moments, since I have been here with the Lakers, that breath is very important to take to center yourself."

Peak flow experiences are a common goal in many types of performances, musical, athletic, and artistic. In the article, "Mindfulness for Athletes: The Secret to Better Performance?" the authors states, "While some degree of stress is normal in athletics, we need a way to moderate that stress. We also need to be able to resist internal and external distractions — anxiety, fear, a loud crowd, or even a distracting teammate — so that we can make good decisions in the moment."

Research on mindfulness and athletics is an emerging field that will continue to grow, just as other research on mindfulness has grown exponentially in the last few years. But research isn't enough to entice teen athletes to learn mindfulness, it most likely is going to need to come from coaches and captains of teams, and it doesn't need to require a lot of time. "They say that in sports, 90 percent of performance is mental." Isn't it time we devote some of this 90% to mindfulness? It could be 5 minutes before practices and games, as the effect is cumulative.


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