Mindfulness has cult-like following these days. But it's is one of the rare popular trends that I think is actually legitimate. A host of research studies have validated the benefits of mindfulness in many areas of life including athletic performance.
This post will focus on one specific way that mindfulness training improves performance: increased self-awareness.
Why is Self-Awareness so Valuable?
With a high level of self-awareness, players are more capable of giving themselves feedback. Instead of relying on feedback from outside sources, players with high self-awareness have the ability to provide feedback to themselves. In essence, they act as their own coach.
Feedback plays an extremely important role in the learning process. Shaka Smart, head coach at Texas, emphasized the value of feedback in this interview on the Finding Mastery Podcast,
"I would say the most important component of accelerating growth is changing someone’s relationship with feedback...it is going to be impossible for you to become the best version of yourself without a very, very healthy and close relationship with feedback.”
In this context, Smart is mostly referring to feedback from external sources like coaches. But if feedback is that valuable, why stop there? Why rely on others to be the sole source of feedback? Players can enhance the learning process by providing feedback for themselves.
The feedback that comes from self-awareness doesn’t just have to be about the physical or technical areas of performance. Higher levels of self-awareness can allow a player to better monitor their mental and emotional state. And from that self-understanding, players can make intentional changes.
For players especially, the ability to monitor your own state is crucial because coaches can’t it for you. Coaches can't directly observe your mindset and emotional state so it’s hard for them to provide effective feedback.
Ideal Competitive Mindset
With a high level of self-awareness, players can learn their ideal competitive mindset. Some players perform best when they’re amped up, while others do better in a calm, relaxed state. Once they figure out their ideal level of arousal, players can compare it to their current state and make the necessary changes. But It’s only from this level of self-knowledge that a player can consistently access their ideal competitive mindset.
Self-awareness also allows players to observe common obstacles that can pull them out of their ideal mental and emotional state. Do you lose your concentration when a ref makes a bad call against your team? Why? Is it because you get angry? Or because you feel powerless?
Self-awareness can help answer these types of questions. And it’s only when players have the answer to these questions that they can apply the mental tools and strategies to overcome these stumbling blocks.
"Error Detectors and Error Correctors"
As a coach, having a team that is capable of providing feedback to themselves makes your job a whole lot easier. The goal as a coach is to make yourself redundant because the players are teaching themselves. And this is much more effective if they have the self-awareness to provide their own feedback.
As coaches, we want our players to become—as Coach Chris Oliver from Basketball Immersion puts it—"error detectors and error correctors." We want them to take responsibility for their own development by recognizing and correcting their own mistakes. And for players to be error correctors, they must first have the self-awareness to be error detectors.
How to Train Self-Awareness?
In my personal experience, meditation is an effective form of mindfulness training that has had a big impact on my life. If you’re curious, I wrote a post about my own meditation practice, which I've been following for a few years now (with a few small tweaks). You can check it out here.
Mindfulness training is very simple and can be implemented in anyone’s personal life or a team practice. I believe a small investment of time in mindfulness training will have disproportionate benefits for you or your team because of the impact it has on self-awareness. So go ahead and check out my own personal meditation practice or look online. There are plenty of resources for any coach or player who wants to give it a shot.