Coaches nowadays have so much to juggle, whether you are coaching a group of 8 year olds to play soccer for the first time or a group of 20 year olds to hit PBs in training…a coach has SO much to think about. As well as planning sessions, setting out equipment, motivating or controlling the athletes and then running round barking orders…a coach has a mind full of what happened during that day, what paper work they have left to do and what if Jonny doesn’t qualify for nationals!!…it can be SO stressful.
Whether employed or volunteering as a coach, it can be a difficult task to take a step back and evaluate your own performance and organise everything you need to do (including picking the kids up, handing in that report to your boss and making dinner for the whole family!), but when you have a group of athletes or players in front of you demanding your full attention, sometimes it can be too much to handle and result in you under performing or leave you totally exhausted by the end of the day.
So how can meditation help with all this? For those of you that have never meditated before, I urge you to do so! Meditation actually gives you more time by making your mind calmer and more focused. A simple ten or fifteen minute breathing meditation can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance. I know this may sound a little ‘hippy’, but I promise you it works, especially after doing so consistently for a period of time. There is a tonne of information on the web and countless books in the bookstore about meditation and topics on the subject can range from simply calming your thoughts to being ‘Zen like’. However, the great thing with meditation is that you can get involved on a level that you chose and you don’t have to believe in it, you just have to do it!
Here is a VERY basic guide thanks to stopandbreathe.com
1. Sit tall
The most common and accessible position for meditation is sitting. Sit on the floor, in a chair or on a stool. If you are seated on the floor it is often most comfortable to sit cross-legged on a cushion. Comfort is key. Now imagine a thread extending from the top of your head, pulling your back, neck and head straight up towards the ceiling in a straight line. Sit tall.
2. Relax your body
Close your eyes and scan your body, relaxing each body part one at a time. Begin with your toes, feet, ankles, shins and continue to move up your entire body. Don’t forget to relax your shoulders, neck, eyes, face, jaw and tongue which are all common areas for us to hold tension.
3. Be still and silent
Now that you are sitting tall and relaxed, take a moment to be still. Just sit. Be aware of your surroundings, your body, the sounds around you. Don’t react or attempt to change anything. Just be aware.
Turn your attention to your breath. Breathe silently, yet deeply. Engage your diaphragm and fill your lungs, but do not force your breath. Notice how your breath feels in your nose, throat, chest and belly as it flows in and out.
5. Establish a mantra
A mantra is a sound, word or phrase that can be repeated throughout your meditation. Mantras can have spiritual, vibrational and transformative benefits, or they can simply provide a point of focus during meditation. They can be spoken aloud or silently to yourself. A simple and easy mantra for beginners is to silently say with each breath, I am breathing in, I am breathing out.
6. Calm your mind
As you focus on your breath or mantra, your mind will begin to calm and become present. This does not mean that thoughts will cease to arise. As thoughts come to you, simply acknowledge them, set them aside, and return your attention to your breath or mantra. Don’t dwell on your thoughts. Some days your mind will be busy and filled with inner chatter, other days it will remain calm and focused. Neither is good, nor bad.
9. When to end your practice
There is no correct length of time to practice meditation, however when first beginning it is often easier to sit for shorter periods of time (5 to 10 minutes). As you become more comfortable with your practice, meditate longer. Set an alarm if you prefer to sit for a predetermined length of time. Another option is to decide on the number of breaths you will count before ending your practice.
8. How to end your practice
When you are ready to end your practice, slowing bring your conscious attention back to your surroundings. Acknowledge your presence in the space around you. Gently wiggle your fingers and toes. Begin to move your hands, feet, arms and legs. Open your eyes. Move slowly and take your time getting up.
Here is how I fit it into my day.
WAKING: I wake at 5 am before anyone else in the house is awake, jump in the shower to wake myself up and then, find a quite and comfy spot in the house. I use a guided meditation app (there are so many out there, you can also find on youtube), put my ear phones in and follow the instructions. Meditation at this time of the day lets me focus my mind on the day ahead and slow me down even before I get involved in the crazy rush of the day. I feel mentally prepared for my day ahead.
BEFORE COACHING: My coaching sessions take place in the evening, so for me, I usually have a brain full of ‘to do lists’ and analysing what has happened during the day. It can sometimes take me a while to get submerged into my coaching session and switch my coaching brain on…which incidentally is reflected in my athletes also. When I appear scatty and stressed, so do my athletes. When I am calm and in control, so are my athletes.
I park my car up in a quiet place where no one will see me – put my earphones in and go through the same steps as I did in the morning.
I have a slightly different affect at this time of day as my mind quietness and I actually become more creative. Random thoughts will pop into my mind of quirky exercises I can do with my athletes, or what the goals are for the session and when I ‘awake’ from meditation, I write everything down and take it with me. I now cant coach without it! Also, I do the same on competition day to calm my nerves and visuals my athletes performing well.
I have found mediation so fantastic at developing my performance as a coach, that I now ask my athletes to meditate just before a session. It was very hard work in the beginning to get them to focus and not to giggle with each other, but now, they have all found their own ways of doing it. Some go off to a quite corner, some use apps or you tube and some just lie quietly and breathe deeply. I only get them to do this for 5 minutes, just long enough to calm themselves down from their day at college and from the excitement of seeing each other (even though they see each other almost every day!) and it also allows them to have a think about the session in front of them.
Just this 5 minutes before each session has made a HUGE difference to their training performances, and some of them have taken this one step further and now do the same thing before a competition, except for this, they visualise their races. Something which all top athletes have been known to do.
So – if your hectic like me and feel you need to take a little step back and focus, meditate. I promise you, you wont regret it!