Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Mindfulness and sporting performance
What is the effect of mindfulness on sporting performance?
In the competitive world of elite sports, athletes need to improve all aspects of their life physically and mentally to get an edge on the competition. From winning Olympic gold medals to the professional sports arena, performing well in sports is becoming more important to our culture in Australia and to the rest of the world. The issue that many athletes face is how to gain an edge mentally and ensure that they are able to perform under intense pressure.
This chapter explores the relationship between mindfulness and sporting performance and how mindfulness is able to influence motivation. Firstly, what mindfulness is and how it can be harnessed will be explored. Secondly, the relationship between athlete flow and mindfulness will be discussed. Thirdly, this chapter will touch on the effects that mindfulness has on sporting performance.
- Improving emotional regulation
- Improving sporting performance
- How does mindfulness affect motivation in sporting performance?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a psychological approach which involves a present-centred approach to reality. It is the ability to have feelings and thought processes without any emotional reaction. An individual may bring attention to internal and external stimuli without any judgement on those thoughts or trying to change or control any of those experiences.
In sports psychology, the primary focus for this method is to experience a modified relationship with one's cognition and emotions, rather than attempting to change these experiences and preventing the thoughts from occurring at all (Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006).
Mindfulness involves five core facets:
- Acting with Awareness
- Non judging of Inner Experience
- Non reactivity to Inner Experience
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness
Research has indicated that mindfulness is capable of altering brain structures as seen in ECG and fMRI scans (Davidson 2002). Mindfulness helps to promote neuroplasticity in the brain and the brain forms new connections from this style of cognition. It is found that individuals alter the way that they express emotions and functioning capabilities under high stress levels (Davidson 2002). From practising mindfulness and meditation mindfulness skills the brain can become systematically automated so that it takes little effort to reach and maintain a high level of attention. However, there needs to be more research into how long and how much meditation and mindfulness needs to be done to gain effect (Davidson 2002).
Mindfulness in Sports performance
The mindfulness modelin sports performance believes that for an athlete to perform at an optimal level they require:
- A non judgemental awareness of their thoughts.
- That their attention needs to be on the task ahead of them rather than trying to control their internal processes.
- They need to put effort into their behaviours and that their behaviours and choices are supportive of their athletic goals.
By following these three main processes in the model an athlete will be able to focus on internal thoughts and feelings without worrying about the performance outcomes, allowing them to prepare for the game strategies and focus on the skills needed to perform at an optimal level (Gardner & Moore, 2012).
Joel is a 15 year old basketball player. He dreams of playing professionally in the NBA and owning a large house and getting paid a lot of money. However, he struggles with sports performance anxiety and it is affecting how he is performing. This anxiety is causing him to lose motivation and causing a lack of confidence. In an important game the scores were tied and Joel had an opportunity to take a free throw and put his team ahead. He can shoot free throws easily at training and on his own. However, he was unable to make the shot under the intense pressures of the game. For him to succeed in this sport he will need to over come his performance anxiety.
Motivation in sport
Motivation in sports is essential for athletes to continue their pursuit for excellence. A discrepancy occurs when athletes fall short of their performance goals this motivates their behaviours so that they are able to continue training and trying to reach their athletic goals.
Self Determination Theory
Thisis a broad framework for understanding motivation for goal directed behaviours. It is underpinned by three main psychological needs of; Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness and the idea is that if an individual experiences all three of these components in their sporting environment that the performance will improve (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
- Competency; the belief that an individual can perform the desired behaviour or task.
- Autonomy; Freedom to choose the desired sport without expectations or external factors.
- Relatedness; the motivation to engage in behaviours which foster meaningful relationships.
Self determination theory states that an individual may be placed along a continuum of external motivation based on the sense of control over the activity (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It is believed that there are degrees of autonomy and things are not necessarily just intrinsic or extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation involves the the internal motivation which drives a person to do something, often the enjoyment of the behaviour or competing for the love of the game (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Whereas, extrinsic motivation is the external influences of the behaviour. This may be rewards, fame or money as the driving force for motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000) Amotivation is the perception that you may believe you do not have the resources or capability to complete a task. You may also be amotivated if you do not value a task or it is not challenging (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Intrinsic motivation and mindfulness
Intrinsic motivation is thought to improve someonesenjoyment, persistence, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Using the case study it appears that Joel is mainly focused on extrinsic motivations and this may be one factor which is affecting his performance. Birrer D, Röthlin P, Morgan G. (2012) found that mindful attention can improve intrinsic motivation, attention as well as episodic and long term memory. They completed three studies to explore the concept of mindfulness and episodic memory. The first study involved self-report measures of mindful attention improved memory. The third study only involved 57 participants and found that mindfulness improved intrinsic motivation and episodic memory. Criticisms of this study were the population used, the data was completed with university students which may have a higher level of intelligence to the general population. There was also no control measures over expectancy outcomes of participants, therefore results may be biased to what participants expected to occur, particularly in self report mindfulness tests. Similarly, Ruffault, Bernier, Juge & Fournier, (2015) found that those individuals who engaged in a high level of mindfulness behaviour also reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation as well as higher physical activity levels. They experienced higher levels of physical activity and positive intrinsic motivation towards activity. Using mindfulness, it may be possible to improve Joel's level of intrinsic motivation for the sport and lower his performance anxiety.
Athlete flow is a state whereby an athlete improves their athletic performance where you may be so focused on the task at hand that the skill of the sports performance increases. Flow is thought to influences these constructs; Challenge-Skill Balance; Action and Awareness become merged; Clear Goals can be set; Unambiguous Feedback; Concentration on Tasks is improved, Control; not Self-Conscious about movements; time may feel transformed.(Cathcart, McGregor & Groundwater,2014)
Athlete flow has been found to reduce performance anxiety, improve athletic performance and a present centred focus is able to link both mindfulness and flow together. It is also found that there may be an enhanced flow and sport performance after mindfulness training (Bernier et al.,2009), (Schwanhausser, 2009).
Delle, Bassi & Massimini (2003) completed a study which explored the idea of athlete flow, mood confidence, intrinsic behaviour, confidence and risk assessment. They found that based on self report data that the climbers who experiences a challenge were more likely to experience flow and this in turn influenced intrinsic motivation. This can be applied to the Self determination theory as it relates to the competency facet of the model and improves intrinsic motivation.
Does mindfulness improve sporting performance?
Model of mindfulness
The Acceptances based behavioural intervention program is the most researched and used model of mindfulness to improve athletic performance. The idea behind the MAC is that Optimal performance does not require the reduction or control of internal states but rather, non judgemental thought acceptance. According to Gardner & Moore (2001), focus of attention should be shifted to task relevant stimuli and choose behaviours that improve sporting ability
Theoretical model of the nine mechanisms which are influenced by mindfulness Birrer et al. (2012)
- Focused attention
- Values clarification
- Negative emotion regulation
- Less rumination of negative thoughts
These mechanisms may help to improve athletic skills by influencing 11 psychological skills;
- personal development and life skills
- Recovery skills
- Coping skills
- Motivation skills
- Pain management skills
- Attention skills
- Arousal regulation skills,
- Perceptual-cognitive skills,
- Motor control skills
- Communication and leadership skills
Mindfulness improves emotional regulation
Many athletes have performance anxiety and increased levels of stress before competitions. They often experience negative thought patterns and ruminations . These unstoppable negative thoughts cause athletes to feel depression, anxiety, become worried and distressed . By using mindfulness techniques athletes can reduce rumination in highly stressful sporting situations (Nolen-Hoeksema 2000), (Josefsson et al., 2017). Mindfulness may not improve sporting performance in a physiological sense, however it may improve related mental capabilities which thereby influence performance. A study by Ntoumanis, (2001) found that in their research exploring long distance running, mindfulness improved sport related anxiety, trait awareness and perfectionism . However, it was found that there was no measurable improvement in running time and actual sport performance. Similarly, a study completed by Patterson & Joseph (2010) found that mindfulness helps to improve mental health benefits as it improves stress levels and improves task focus . However, they also found that mindfulness may impair the motivation to complete tasks it does not alter performance either positive or negative . Therefore, it is possible that if Joel were to adopt the MAC model of sports psychology, he may be able to eliminate some of his negative thoughts and behaviours whereby improving performance.
It is clear that mindfulness has an impact on emotional well-being. It may not have a specific impact on athletic times as physiological interventions show, however mindfulness is able to decrease emotional stress, reduce performance anxiety, increase athlete flow and intrinsic motivation. There are also many health benefits that mindfulness has on the body including reduction in depression, improvements in memory and neuro-physiology of the brain and numerous social and psychological skills . These benefits will be able to impact athletic performance and ensure that motivation is maintained to reach specific goals.
- Athlete Flow (Wikipedia)
- Arousal and sporting performance (Book chapter, 2018)
- Mindfulness (Wikipedia)
- Self-determination theory (Wikipedia)
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Brown, K., Goodman, R., Ryan, R., & Anālayo, B. (2016). Mindfulness enhances episodic memory performance: Evidence from a multimethod investigation. PLOS ONE, 11, e0153309. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153309
Cathcart, S., McGregor, M., & Groundwater, E. (2014). Mindfulness and flow in elite athletes. Journal Of Clinical Sport Psychology, 8, 119-141. https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.2014-0018
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Ntoumanis, N. (2001). Empirical links between achievement goal theory and self-determination theory in sport. Journal of Sports Sciences, 19, 397-409. https://doi.org/10.1080/026404101300149357
Patterson, T., & Joseph, S. (2007). Person-centered personality theory: Support from self-determination theory and positive psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47, 117-139. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167806293008
Ruffault, A., Bernier, M., Juge, N., & Fournier, J. (2015). Mindfulness may moderate the relationship between intrinsic motivation and physical activity: A cross-sectional study. Mindfulness, 7, 445-452. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0467-7
Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68
Schwanhausser, L. (2009). Application of the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment (MAC) protocol with an adolescent springboard diver. Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology, 4, 377–395.