Sunday, 20 June 2010

A week in sport - meditation special

There's been a glut of stories this week linking meditation practice to sporting erformance. It started last Saturday night when ITV commentator Andy Townsend exhorted England's footballers to 'be mindful' several times during their opening world cup match against the USA, and continued in a subsequent Guardian piece reflecting on how England goalkeeper Robert Green might prepare his mind after the howler that led to the USA's goal - sports psychologist Damien Hughes advised Green to "concentrate on counting his breaths to steady himself". In the end, Green wasn't picked for the next match, so had plenty of time on the bench for some sitting meditation while his team-mates laboured through an even less cultured performance.

Meanwhile the LA Times has been reporting that Lakers centre Andrew Bynum has a pre-match meditation routine, inspired by "zen master" coach Phil Jackson. According to Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA finals history: "When players practise what is known as mindfulness - paying attention to what's actually happening - not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other." Over on the East Coast, Miami Dolphins player Ricky Williams has gone one step further - he teaches a regular Wednesday night meditation class at Nova Southeastern University. Williams started practising in 2004 - he says finds it particularly helpful before NFL games. And Scottish golf pro George Murray has also been trying to improve his game by meditating. He's been reading Zen Golf, which has been credited with helping Vijay Singh. "It chills me out," says Murray. "I approach every shot as though it has no relevance."

There's plenty of evidence that meditation can create the kind of evenly-hovering attention that enables athletes to be in the zone. With practice, it becomes more possible to ride the waves of emotion that are inevitable during big events and to stay focused on the here and now moment of play, in balance with body, mind and environment. Handy for all of us, and not just during sport.

As for England's chances of progress to the next round of the world cup, the Jackson approach might well be an answer for Fabio Capello, who has already admitted his players' problems are in the mind. So, who's going to tell Wayne Rooney he needs to meditate?


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