Why Conscious Breathing is the Key to Peak Performance

The important thing to remember is it’s not about how much you practice...but how much your mind is present during practice.
— Kobe Bryant

My high school coach gave me the best shooting advice I've ever heard, "the ball goes where you tell it to go." It may sound obvious and simplistic, but think about it a little deeper and you'll find it's very powerful.

The ball is reliant on the laws of physics, so if you push with the right amount of force at the right angle, it will go through the hoop. Basic enough, right? And your mind tells your body with how much force to propel the ball. So, your mind is ultimately in control of where the ball ends up. 

As a shooter, this means that your mental ability controls whether or not you make shots more than your physical ability. But this concept can be expanded to all aspects of sports.

Essentially, your body is a servant of your mind. As athletes that play a sport based on physicality, basketball players often forget the fact that our mind controls our body. So how do we practice our mental abilities? Through conscious breathing.

Conscious breathing is an incredibly powerful tool that anyone can use to harness the power of their mind. Just like you practice your physical skills, you need to spend the time and effort to hone your mental skills. But trust me, the investment in your mental abilities is absolutely worth it.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, conscious breathing has 2 parts: (1) become aware of your breathing and (2) control it.

1) Becoming aware of your breathing

I've found that the best way to increase awareness of my breathing is through meditation. I know, it sounds nuts. If 2 years ago me read that sentence, I would've thought I was an idiot. I used to think meditation was only for hippies and Buddhist monks. But I've found through practice and personal experience that it has helped me unlock my peak performance.

Meditation doesn't have to mean dressing up in robes and sitting cross-legged on the floor in silence for hours on end. I simply spend 10 minutes every morning focusing on my breathing. In this way, I'm practicing my mental ability to focus my attention on the task at hand. 

Side note: I will have further posts that detail simple meditation practices that athletes can perform. But don't be dissuaded if you try this and your mind starts wandering incessantly. I still find it difficult to focus solely on my breathing for more than a few breaths at a time. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breathing and continue to practice.

Another helpful tip is to use small cues throughout daily life to return your focus to your breathing. For example, I use the trigger of getting out of my car. Every time I open the car door and stand up, I've conditioned myself to become aware of my breathing. Another trigger I've used is walking up stairs. 

These cues have allowed me to become accustomed to tapping into my breathing pattern and over time it has become easy and natural. Find one or two that work for you and implement them into your daily life. 

The point of all this is so when game time rolls around, the crowd is going crazy and you're nervous before tip-off you have the awareness to realize that your breathing is shallow and you're in the position to do something about it.

2) Control your breathing

Once you realize that your breath is shallow or problematic, you can work to control it. I've found 3 tips that have helped me control my breathing.

First, deep breaths. Often during moments of intense pressure or nervousness, players tend to breathe quickly and shallowly. These breathing patterns actually increase anxiety rather than control it. By focusing on lengthening your breaths, you can counteract this effect.

Second, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. This pattern has a range of performance benefits and forces you to slow down your breathing. I've found this technique to have a very calming effect.

Third, it's helpful to imagine breathing with your stomach instead of your chest. When you inhale, your belly should expand and when you exhale it should contract. Breathing through your stomach is the most natural way to breathe and helps to reduce anxiety.


What do you think? If you've practiced anything like this before, I'd love to hear your story.