Updated: May 14, 2020
By Logan Ryan B.S., CPT, PES
The mental arena is one of the difference makers between good, great, and elite performers in any industry. In a highly competitive, physically demanding, and emotionally taxing game like basketball, it’s vital that players consciously condition themselves mentally. This is where the practice of meditation enters.
What is it?
Meditation is a practice where one focuses their mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to train attention and awareness. One goal of meditation is to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state, which in turn evolves into being present in the moment, and is also known as mindfulness. Many of the greatest players and coaches of all-time in basketball are meditation practitioners, including Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.
Why is it important/useful?
Meditation is useful for several reasons. One study conducted by Amishi Jha of the University of Miami found that 12-minutes of meditation per day can increase mental resilience, and the data suggests that “mental training of almost any kind may help to alleviate some of the emotional and cognitive strains that otherwise occur during physical training” (Reynolds, 2017). For basketball, this is crucial because the best players must adapt to the inevitable challenges that come in a game, whether it is missing shots or standing strong in the face of a run by the other team.
A second reason meditation is important for basketball players is because it can improve emotional stability and response to stress (McGreevey, 2012). This is similar to the previous point, but the difference is that mental resilience is more acute (specific to one instance) whereas emotional stability and response to stress are more chronic (long-term trends).
A third and final reason why basketball players should implement meditation is for the cognitive benefits. An eight-week 2018 study conducted by neuroscientist Peter Malinowski of Liverpool John Moores University found that mindful breath awareness meditation for 10 minutes per day improved focus, concentration, and working memory in the studies participants. Working memory is the ability to keep information active in one’s mind, and the brain achieves this by becoming more efficient, literally requiring fewer brain resources to do these tasks. This impacts focus and concentration, which as basketball players we need whether it is to shoot a free throw, analyze film, or learn a new play.
How do I apply it?
There are several different meditation exercises, but the foundational method is called mindful breath awareness meditation. It involves focusing on the sensation of your breath – for example, the air flowing in and out of your nostrils. If any thoughts, feelings or other sense impressions arise, you should just recognize them and return to the breath, without judging the distraction or further thinking about it. After learning this foundational method, there are other meditation exercises you can use that are more specific to your goals. Additional methods include gratitude, compassion, five senses, and many more. Based off the research, the important thing when it comes to applying meditation into your life is to do so for at least ten minutes per day.
The mental arena is one of the difference makers between good, great, and elite performers in any industry, and meditation is one method you can add into your regimen to increase your mental conditioning. Many of the greatest players and coaches of all-time in basketball are meditation practitioners, including Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. From increasing mental resilience, improving emotional stability and stress coping, and raising focus, concentration, and working memory, the benefits of meditation have scientific backing. For a small daily sacrifice of ten minutes of practice, the potential benefits are worth investing in.