Sport is a Metaphor for Life

Athletes are empowered by focus and physical strength but without a mental practice, it is up in the air when and if they hit. I have been studying the elements of athletic endeavors and avenues to “flow” state or optimum experience.

The key elements are:

  1. Confronting a task that can be completed.

  2. The athlete has the ability to concentrate on the task.

  3. Concentration is possible due to clear goals.

  4. Concentration is reinforced with feedback.

  5. The endeavor requires focused attention that removes the athlete from daily thoughts.

  6. The experience is enjoyable and allows the athlete to have a sense of control over the outcome.

  7. The athlete’s concern for self disappears when they are engaged in endeavor and is strengthened when the endeavor is complete.

I am struck by the similarities that reaching flow has with deeply connecting with another human, creative process or intellectual pursuit. Why is it that reaching this level of concentration, focus and expression is so difficult and elusive? We are a culture that takes the concept of focus for granted. Meditation, learning a new skill and being present are challenged by the amount of input and stimulation we have in daily life. The practice of deepening awareness in the moment can profoundly change a person’s life as well as an athlete’s performance. A tool for beginning a personal practice for increased focus and attention is to connect to your breath upon falling asleep and when awakening. Take 1-2 minutes to breathe in balanced four-count in and out breaths. Allow your thoughts to float past without hooking into any of them. Count to four on the inhale and four on the exhale so that the numbers can fill the space in your mind where other words and thoughts might emerge. Do not judge your performance on this mindful breathing. If you find yourself pulled into a thought, just place your focus back on the inhale and the exhale. As this practice becomes more comfortable, you can extend the amount of time you spend, vary your position to sitting up, laying with your legs up a wall or sitting in nature. You always have your breath with you, so this tool is available during stressful times, as a preparation for pressured situations like tests, meetings, or important conversations. Change your life one breath at a time! For more ideas and tools about sport and life, check back here.

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