In the world of elite sport, athletes are always looking for that special something that can help them gain a winning edge over their opponents and cope with extreme pressure.
Mindfulness and meditation techniques have been around for centuries, but increasingly some of Australia’s high-profile athletes are using the tools to help them deal with life on and off the playing field..
Sydney Swans assistant coach Brett Kirk was one of sport’s fearless competitors during his playing career with the AFL club.
But his ferocity on the field belies his thoughtfulness off it, and he believes it was his daily meditation practice that helped him reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“It gives you great clarity. Footy is like life. It is a game of crazy chaos,” he said.
Kirk said he started practising mindfulness and meditation while at the Swans in his early 20s following the death of a close mate.
“Like a lot of young men you get tipped upside down and turned inside out and I didn’t really know which was up,” he said.
“I found it was really comforting for me and also allowed me to deal with some anger and different other stuff that was going on inside me.”
Up and coming Australian cricketer Cam Bancroft’s journey to meditation was similar.
“I know that at times I have got some personality traits of being really intense, being really focused,” he said.
“And while they are strengths of mine … being able to tailor that back to a really relaxed, passive approach is something that I have had to learn and develop.”
Bancroft’s Perth Scorchers coach and former Australian opening batsman Justin Langer describes his meditation routine as the most important part of his day.
And now at the age of just 24 Bancroft has become a meditation teacher.
“I think it is a really important part of your life. It’s amazing what you can come to in your own mind when you have a really passive attitude in the way you think,” the West Australian batsman said
Science backs theory
Sandy Gordon, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia’s School of Sport Science Exercise and Heath, said research showed there were countless benefits to athletes who practised mindfulness and meditation including stress and anxiety reduction, and greater creativity.
He cited the brain’s ability to adapt as a key factor.
“The neuroplasticity in our brain has been recognised as promoting greatest well-being of all in terms of forgiveness, self compassion, enhancing performance of people in leadership positions in highly volatile circumstances,” he said.
“So there’s quite a robust literature now on the benefits of mindful practices.”
Kirk said athletes were using meditation in the same way they had embraced yoga and ice-baths in the past.
“I can understand why as a coach you are now looking at why there are fluctuations in individual and team performances,” he said.
“I actually find If I don’t do it from day to day it is like brushing your teeth. I actually feel a bit furry. I feel like I’m missing something,” he added.