What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice of non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of one’s internal state (Kabat-Zinn, 1994).

  • Mindfulness does not mean sitting still, stiff, and stopping all thoughts. In fact, mindfulness can be done in many ways, postures, and places.

  • Mindfulness is a practice, not a perfect.

  • What does this actually mean for an athlete? Attention to the ball and your task, in the present-moment, without judgment. It means experiencing a state of “flow”, with your focus on the game and your goals

What both high-functioning athletes and expert meditators have in common is an ability to withstand high levels of anxiety while maintaining optimal task performance. Therefore, mindfulness is not about reducing anxiety on the field and in the game. In fact, contrary to popular belief, anxiety can be used to drive optimal performance.


Mindfulness Promotes acceptance and 
awareness of one’s internal states, which
in turn, promotes goal-directed action.


To increase athletic performance, mindfulness and acceptance-based practices are an empirically supported intervention (Gardner & Moore, 2012).



Mindfulness has been demonstrated to increase neuroplasticity; that is, changes in the brain’s connections and functionality. Neuroplasticity is involved in learning and memory, crucial to integrating new athletic skills and abilities.



Mindfulness has also been shown to increase one’s capacity to respond to emotions and function in the face of stress and anxiety. For an athlete, this can translate into increasing your capacity to be in control under the pressure of the game and help you perform to the best of your ability.



Mindfulness can increase your ability to pay attention to the here-and-now. Or for an athlete, increased attention to what is happening on the field or the court.


Researchers studied long-term meditators compared to non-meditators. They found that long term meditators had thicker cortical brain tissue. Thicker cortical brain issues is associated with more brain functionality for attention, emotional control, empathy, and learning. This means that the brains of long-term meditators are positively different from non-meditators!



Moreover in just 8 weeks of mindfulness skill training, researchers found significant and measurable changes in the grey matter of participants’ brains. The areas where the researchers found increased grey matter correlates with areas in the brain responsible for learning and memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. In this same study, decreases in the grey matter of a brain structure known as the amygdala were also found in participants. These changes are associated with an increased ability to manage the impact of stress.


The good news, the more you practice and integrate mindfulness in your life, the greater the impact.

Resources and Links

  • In a small study of 17 NCAA Division 1 basketball players, increased mindfulness was associated with increased competitive free throw percentages1.

  • In university student-athletes, “flow” state, a state of present-moment awareness (like mindfulness) that is associated with optimal athletic performance, was found to be related to greater self-reported concentration, control of attention, control of emotions, goal setting, self-talk, and lower self-report of self-consciousness 2.

  • A few studies suggested that mindfulness practice led to coach’s rating their student athletes as having increased performance, task-focused attention, and intensity during practice3

  • In a small study of NCAA Division 1 basketball players, participants in a mindfulness and yoga intervention reported greater goal-directed energy, less perceived stress, and greater mindfulness compared to a non-intervention control group4.

Related Links:






  1. Gooding & Gardner, (2009)

  2. Kee & Wang, 2008; Nakamura
    & Csikszentmihalyi, (2005)

  3. Wolanin, (2005); Wolanin, Gardner,
    & Moore, (2003); Gardner & Moore, (2007); Lutkenhouse, Gardner,
    & Moore, (2007)

  4. Goodman, Kashdan, Mallard,
    & Schumann, (2014)

  5. Davidson, 2002

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