Mindfulness and Youth Athletes: How to Support Your Athletes’ Mental Health During COVID-19 and Beyond
By Jamie Hancock
April 16, 2020
By Mallika Chopra, Author of Just Breathe and Just Feel
As you navigate the world of online coaching and training due to social distancing, helping your players—especially youth—focus on mental health is important. While some kids may be open to participating in zoom sessions and keep up with online training videos, others may withdraw and feel a sense of loss. Your players may be struggling with uncertainty, loss, disappointment, heartbreak, anger, loneliness, and lack of connection—emotions that also have physical manifestations.
These feelings are normal and natural, but it’s important that they’re addressed. Mindfulness and motivational exercises are two ways to do that.
Mindfulness and motivational exercises can help connect kids to their feelings, and be more aware of how these emotions are manifesting in their bodies. Also, motivational exercises may help kids keep up a positive dialogue. Here are 3 exercises that may be helpful to explore with your players.
Exercise 1: The Body Scan
This is an exercise that athletes can complete before starting a virtual training session. Share it with your parents and players, or better yet, ask your coaches to walk through it at the start of your next online practice.
- Before warming up or doing a standard exercise routine, ask kids to do a quick body scan.
- Standing tall, with both arms hanging by your side, take a deep breath. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out.
- Notice how your feet are grounded on the surface below you. Breathe in. Pause. Breath Out.
- Notice your posture. Consciously raise your head higher, like it is being pulled up by a string. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out.
- Look straight ahead. Put attention on the space above your head to the roof, sky and universe above. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe Out.
- Feeling your whole body, put attention on any area that may be feeling discomfort. Breathe into those areas, (breathe in, pause, breathe out) reminding yourself to be aware of them during your workout.
After the session, repeat the exercise.
Exercise 2: “I am” — A Motivational Meditation
Meditation can be a great way to stay grounded during uncertain times like these, but it often feels out of reach for people who don’t realize how simple it can be. Here’s a quick exercise that you can share with parents, players, or coaches.
- Sit comfortably. Take a deep breath. Breathe. Pause. Breathe Out.
- If you want, consider closing your eyes. Or you can keep them open.
- In your head, repeat the words, I AM. I AM. I AM.
- Do this for a minute. When your attention drifts away from the words, I AM, gently come back to the words. (It is normal and natural for your mind to wander.)
- Now, chose a few words to complete the sentence. Like, I AM STRONG. I AM MOTIVATED. I AM POWERFUL.
Chose words that you would like to feel. Say them in your head. Let go of them.
Take a last deep breath. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe Out.
Exercise 3: Intention Setting
When you’re feeling stressed or disconnected, setting an intention can be a simple way to ground yourself. Encourage your coaches to set an intention with the group at the start of every virtual session
- An intention is an experience that you hope your team gets from the session.
- Perhaps it’s connection. Or laughter. Or peace. Or drive.
- Share this intent with the group before you begin.
- Then assign each player to choose an intent before a workout.
- Rotate this role so that every player is empowered to set the tone for your team.
More than ever, you have the opportunity to create community and connection, and keep your coaches and players feeling as positive as possible during this uncertain time. Don’t underestimate the power of these simple exercises to help them get through the next few weeks and beyond.
Mallika Chopra is the author of Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More and Just Feel: How To Be Stronger, Happier, Healthier and More, books written for kids 8-12 years old and the adults in their lives.