“What?” I hear you say, “mindful football??”. How in the world can ‘Mindfulness’ be helpful during a game of football?
In actual fact, it really can be the difference between winning and losing.
So, let’s begin by answering the question ‘what is mindfulness?’. Mindfulness seems to be mentioned everywhere these days, from business meetings to cocktails parties. But what does it mean and what does it involve?
Mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose and non-judgementally, in the present moment.
Our minds spend so much time ‘time travelling’ like monkeys jumping from tree to tree; ruminating about past regrets and fearfully anticipating future scenarios that may or may not happen. Our minds are very rarely in the ‘here and now’, but this is the one and only place where we can make a difference.
The past exists only in our minds and the future is just another present moment when it arrives. Spending less time in the past and future frees us up to make constructive and productive changes in the moment. Sounds good. But how can this really help improve my performance on the football pitch?
Well, whether you are a Sunday league star or future Ballon d’Or, Mindfulness practice can make an incredible difference.
Imagine it’s match day and after 80 minutes hard slog, the game is drawing to a close. In the final minutes, your teammate has been tackled illegally in the box, the ref has awarded a penalty and you’re the designated penalty taker. It’s 1-1 and this is the chance to be the hero, or regrettably, the villain.
Without Mindfulness, your body pumps adrenaline, your mind races, you begin ‘time travelling’ to the future, picturing yourself smacking the ball over the crossbar and into the stands. The whistle blows and as your mind isn’t ‘right here, right now’, you miss the penalty, failing at the one moment you needed to step up and be counted.
OR – your mind gets fixated on that penalty you missed last week and how disappointed you felt, causing you to feel anxious now, right at the moment when you need to be calm.
As your mind is elsewhere and not where it needs to be (concentrating on the task at hand), the whistle blows, you run up on automatic pilot and blast the ball over. Those crucial 3 points, with all the personal plaudits and accolades, vanish in an instant.
With Mindfulness, your teammate has been upended in the box, the ref has awarded the penalty, and you’re the designated penalty taker. It’s 1-1 and it’s the last minute of the 90.
Your mind races, you worry about the consequences of missing, the memory of the recent penalty miss flashes through your mind. But what about the alternative outcome? The future glory that will come your way if you successfully execute the penalty kick.
You notice you’re mind thinking (it’s normal, that’s what minds do), you bring your attention back to the task at hand (focusing on where to place the penalty), you take a deep breath, the whistle blows and you consciously and deliberately take the penalty.
Now hopefully you score (it’s not a guarantee) and are the talk of the town or make the back page of tomorrow’s paper. One thing you can be sure of is with mindfulness you will increase your chances of being successful.
As I’m sure you have gathered, this skill isn’t just helpful for when you are taking penalties, but also in how we respond to not making the starting 11, being subbed, making a bad pass or getting sent off.
So like any skill, becoming competent in mindfulness takes time and deliberate effort. Being intentional about introducing this process of thinking into your everyday life will help you see tremendous progress, be it in dealing with anger, responding to stress, or being a better, more present footballer.