What Separates Elite Athletes From the Rest?

by Jenn Bodnar | June 22, 2014 8:12 am

Aside from increased range of motion and body awareness, yoga can benefit athletes in many ways and in any sport.  Yoga is not just about flexibility, improved posture and injury prevention.  You want to know the best advantage the top players in their respective games have.  I will give you a hint. It’s not speed, endurance, strength or even flexibility.  It’s not just good genes and access to great nutrition and personal, specific training.  The number one thing that separates the elite, top players in any game is focus!

Sports are competitive and require a sharp mind to act when the time calls which usually comes down to a fraction of a second. There is an enormous amount of pressure during crucial parts of any game.  There is no time to second guess, hesitate or be less than 100% fully engaged in the present moment!

In yoga we call this the mind-body connection.  One of the greatest benefits of a yoga practice is connection to the breath to clear the mind and focus.  Just like any skill, mental awareness or toughness must be practiced if you want to get good at it.

The Ohio Center for Sports Psychology says there are 9 Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes:

1.  Choose and maintain a positive attitude. One of the first things any well trained yoga instructor will tell you in a yoga class is that there is no competition, to listen to your body; resting as needed and to have fun!  They are constantly engaging you to do what feels good,  go where you feel your greatest,  and be the best version of self in each breath!

2.  Maintain a high level of self-motivation.  With that guided assistance of your yoga teacher also comes a lot of independence. There is room for exploration, testing yourself and finding the proverbial edge.  Even the most dedicated athletes can suffer from burn out and self- doubt.  Yoga is a great alternative to keep you fit and get that much needed break so that you’re refreshed and at the top of your game!

3.  Set high, realistic goals.  While there is no real goal setting in yoga class, many teachers will ask you to set an intention for class; something to help you stay focused when things get uncomfortable, or lose your breath.  Some teachers will also have an intention for you that might or might not be shared.  There is always purpose in every breath, every pose and every class.

4.  Deal effectively with people.  Connection.  Yoga is a community. Yoga means to yoke, or unite.  Sharing the experience of a physical yoga practice creates connection whether you know everyone in the room or not.  It’s very introspective at the same time which teaches you about your authenticity and how to be better able to relate the world and people around you.  This is the key to any successful team: communication, verbal and non-verbal.

5.  Use positive self-talk.  Mantra. Its a phrase or word that is repeated.  Yoga teachers use them all the time and love to say words like: beautiful, amazing, strong…whatever it takes to get you through it.

6.  Use positive mental imagery.  Right there with positive self talk is imagery.  Yoga classes are filled with words that imitate nature; fierce animals like the Lion may be referenced when practicing breathing; mountain pose, tree pose and warrior pose all point toward strength.   Some creative instructors that can create a complete out of body experience.

7.  Manage anxiety effectively.  Yoga has been know to reduce anxiety with it’s inverted postures like downward facing dog, headstand and even legs up the wall pose.  Deep breathing exercises can reduce anxiety immediately and can be used at any time.

8.  Manage their emotions effectively.  Game face. Never let them see you cry, right? Well, that’s not exactly the message in yoga, but you will be asked to let go of expectations and to be responsible for your thoughts.

9. Maintain concentration.  Here we are, back to square one. The strongest muscle in the body is the mind and it will try to talk you into giving up repeatedly. Lack of focus can also result in reckless performance resulting in a loss or even injury!  Yoga requires great concentration. Not only because the poses can be intricate and dynamic but because remembering to be present, aware of the breath and to stay on the mat is the practice in itself.

There is no shortage of athletic talent in our world. The competition is driven, determined, strong and proficient in their respective sport. What separates the best from the rest is the ability to take concise action in the moment they are called to do so. All athletes of all ages should be making time for yoga as part of their regular training regimen. There are many classes geared to athletes and private yoga practitioners who specialize in this population.  Practice yoga to become victorious in your sport and in the game of life!

Photo – shutterstock.com

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