Each month, Basketball Europe offers you a new column, a real Masterclass on one of the most important, but often neglected aspects: the mind. Last month, we presented what the work of mental preparation consisted of in broad outline. Today, focus on one of the most mystical tools of mental performance: meditation.
Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steph Curry are for sure some of the best basketball players of all time. What do they have in common? These extraordinary players understood that if they wanted to take advantage of their competition and reach their full potential, they had to, among other things, develop their minds. They use mindfulness meditation every day, it has an integral part in their daily lives.
What is the use of meditation in basketball players?
No, you do not need to become a Buddhist monk to meditate, nor to go on a spiritual retreat. Nor is the goal to reach nirvana during meditation sessions lasting several hours… Meditation helps to learn to know oneself better, to manage one’s emotions, to stay focused in the most important moments, to arrive to manage media and popular pressure… In short, meditation allows champions to stay focused on what makes them exceptional players, by finding their own balance.
“Pure performance starts in the head. What you have in mind will determine your level of performance” – George Mumford, Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers meditation coach
In recent weeks I have invited in my podcast ‘The Mind Game of Basketball‘ (in English) some of the greatest specialists in mental performance among basketball players: Graham Betchart (Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Jaylen Brown, Aaron Gordon) and Greg Graber (Memphis Grizzlies) whose mentor is none other than George Mumford. In this column, you will find the foundations of their work with the best NBA players as well as their use of mindfulness meditation. You will be surprised to learn that despite the idea that many have, meditating to reach its full potential is within everyone’s reach, it is mainly a question of dedication.
The meditation exercise involves calming the mind through conscious breathing and taking into account the thoughts that pass through our mind as well as the sensations in our body. Of course, our minds like to procrastinate and mindfulness meditation requires returning to the present moment through the breath which is the most effective tool to get there. This technique takes practice, like any other skill acquisition. Again and again, we bring the mind back to that moment of conscious breathing where we feel all the sensations in our body as well as the sounds we hear around us.
Episode 1 – the mind in basketball: one on one with oneself
Halftime with three current Betclic Elite players who practice meditation
Yakuba Ouattara, Gerald Ayayi and Jessie Bégarin
You can practice mastering your thoughts and feelings, bringing your mind and attention back to the present moment consistently at any time of the day. The idea is to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings we have and let them go without personally identifying with them. It is our ability to live fully in the present moment that allows us to stay calm and perform. All basketball players – and athletes in general – who use mindfulness meditation recognize that using it, even for a few minutes a day, makes it easier to respond to every challenge they face.
When we encounter distractions or our internal dialogue plays tricks on us, when we encounter adversity, the practice of meditation helps us to manage our unattached feelings, to let them go, and to refocus on the present moment. by training with intention, whatever is going on in our mind, over and over again. It’s a mix of ultimate focus and letting go that achieves a state where you don’t really think and let things happen…bringing you closer to the zone state.
“Stay focused on the present moment, continue to learn from the past and plan for the future without focusing on the past or the future –Graham Betchart
You take charge of the future by taking care of every present moment. From a basketball player’s perspective, if the player can be helped to let the last action slip away, it will be extremely beneficial. No longer focusing on a missed shot, a lost ball, a foul… How many players do you know capable of doing that today? Too few certainly and yet it is a skill that can be learned very early in the learning of basketball.
A concrete example is to imagine yourself at the free-throw line, taking a slow breath in through your nose, stopping the breath for a second, and exhaling even more gently through your mouth. This technique allows you to oxygenate the brain to gain concentration, your tension and your heart rate drop and a natural relaxation follows. Specialists will agree that it is much better to shoot a free throw relaxed but focused rather than tense and disturbed by all the surrounding adversity. This meditation work helps players to reboot their concentration during a match, with a word or a mantra that will allow them to find the point of focus essential to performance.
“Meditating can be like wrestling with a sumo in your mind” – Greg Graber
We must see meditation as a technique that helps to refocus the mind on the present moment when our thoughts make us escape. Finding your point of concentration, thanks to the breath, must be seen as a self-observation. On the other hand, it is good to know that there is no bad meditation: the experience develops critical thinking and the ability to concentrate. The consistency with which one exercises is more important than the length of time one spends meditating. It’s better to spend a few minutes (3 or 5 or 10) a day rather than just meditating before a game. If you should miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself, but don’t let that missed day become three or four.
Great champions train to be present even when it’s uncomfortable for them. They learn to master the incredible skill of becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, but there is no magic formula or overnight success. It’s not about sitting cross-legged, freeing your mind and entering a state of zen, that’s not going to happen and that’s not the goal. As for the acquisition of each skill, it is necessary to remain consistent, to be determined. Becoming a champion is a decision, so choose to train your mind every day (even if it’s just a few minutes), develop your potential and take responsibility: life is happening right now, don’t let it fly before your eyes.
Tips by Graham Betchart
- Putting your energy and focus on what is in front of you. No one masters this skill perfectly, it takes practice. When do you have to practice it? Now in the present moment
- Learn to focus on the action of the moment
- Exercise that can be done by everyone: make sure you are in the present moment and train yourself to stay there. If you lose focus, regain it by focusing on your breath again. Use your vision to see what’s in front of you and be present where your feet are.
If you want to help yourself with meditation apps, there are now many of them: Petit Bambou, Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer Meditation… to name but a few.
Coach in mental performance – Certified in hypnosis for sports performance – Holder of the State Basketball Certificate 1
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Photo: FIBA, Basketball Europe editing
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Chronicle – The mind in basketball: meditation, the mystical tool of performance | Basketball Europe
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