In the zone: Pomona-Pitzer athletes use mindfulness meditation to enhance performance

Graphic by Diamond Pham

Before hitting every shot, the PGA Tour professional and former No. 1 golfer in the world, Jason Day, steps back from his ball, and strangely begins to close his eyes. For 10 seconds, Day pictures the exact swing, ball-flight, and landing spot of the shot that he is about to hit. This routine is a mini-meditation, of sorts.

In 2014, the U.S. winter olympic team brought nine sports psychologists to the Sochi games to aid athletes in focused meditations and pre-competition imagery. Even the legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson ingrained the practice of mindfulness into the daily routines of many of his players, including Kobe Bryant. My father, who rowed crew for Dartmouth College in the ’80s, recalls his team taking time to visualize exact strokes in preparation for races.

The idea that sports are more mental than physical is a widely known concept. Meditation and mindfulness have been proven as beneficial to both individual and team sports.

If this is the case, why don’t more athletes actually partake in these practices? It turns out that several Pomona-Pitzer athletes are ahead of the game.

This fall, Joe Antonellis PO ’21, a former member of the P-P football team, founded the 5C Mindfulness club. Antonellis left the team so that he could focus on spreading his passion for mindfulness full time; however, his extensive athletic experience has given him a first-hand look into the advantages of meditation in sports.

“What meditation does is it allows you to throw yourself into a moment and rely on your true nature, or your natural instincts,” Antonellis said. “In that situation, you’ll know what works best for you and you’ll just do it, and you won’t have to think. Meditation clears your mind of all those distracting thoughts.”

Earlier this fall, when I attended a 30-minute meditation session, guided by Antonellis, we were instructed to let all of our thoughts and worries float away from us, in order to focus solely on our breath. In any athletic competition, this zeroed-in and calm mentality is vital.

“If you’re taking a free throw in basketball, for example,” Antonellis continued, “the crowd isn’t going to disrupt you, and your past free throw experiences aren’t going to disrupt you. Instead, you’re going to be totally in that ‘now’ moment.”

P-P women’s volleyball player Isabel Kelly PO ’20 also has a strong ongoing relationship with meditation and visualization, sparked by her use of the popular app Headspace. Kelly now meditates for at least an hour every morning, as well as periodically throughout the day.

“When I would visualize for volleyball, I wouldn’t only visualize my arm swing or wrist snap,” Kelly said. “I would visualize celebrating a point with my team; I would visualize the feeling of the success of a win.”

Training the mind to intricately plan out intended results and reactions has benefitted Kelly immensely. Jason Day’s pre-shot routine is based on the same concept.

“In giving yourself the ability to create the experience of success within your mind,” she continued, “not just thinking about it, but actually putting your consciousness in a place where you can truly imagine it as if it’s already happened, you are creating a standard for yourself which you will now strive to play at.”

In addition to the manifestations of mindfulness in game-time situations, Lukas Hackett-Provenzano PO ’22, a current member of the P-P football team, explained how meditation has helped boost his healthy lifestyle overall.

“During meditations, I have had realizations that give me the motivation to change my daily habits to be more conducive to elite athletic performance,” Hackett-Provenzano said. “I eat much healthier and sleep more consistently. These habitual changes have helped me play at a higher level and remain injury free.”

Jack Lafferty PO ’21, another P-P football player, enjoys going to meditations with the 5C Mindfulness club, but finds it difficult to carve out dedicated time to the practice in-season. Meditations are a time-commitment, and as Lafferty explained, you have to be aware of what you are doing.

“You can’t meditate without understanding the purpose,” Lafferty said.

It is clear that mindfulness can be extremely advantageous to both athletes and non-athletes. Concentration, visualization, and mental-relaxation are all valuable tools to bring to the court or onto the field. However, they are also vital assets to have in the classroom, on stage, or in a work environment.

If you would like to explore mindfulness meditation, the 5C Mindfulness club meets every weekday at 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the McAlister Center.

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