When it comes to sayings in sports, the head may be the most popular body part. Possibly more popular than the butt. Certainly more popular than the tongue and the gallbladder. There's "get your head in the game", "getting a head start", "heading in the right direction", "get ahead", and, of course, "heads up," to name a few.
This is fitting because that ball-like thing that sits on top of your body can be crucial in how you perform in sports. So it's not surprising that the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) are now co-branding a new category in a meditation and mindfulness smartphone or computer app produced by a company called Headspace.
This new category is called “Performance Mindset” and includes content organized around four pillars of things needed to perform well: Focus, Confidence, Resilience, and Managing Pressure. The category contains 16 curated meditation courses and video interviews of NBA and WNBA players sharing their experiences with meditation and how it's helped them.
One of these players is eight-year veteran NBA point guard Ricky Rubio, who just made headlines for signing a three-year, $51 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. Thus, heading into this upcoming season, he'll be heading to a new team after playing for the Utah Jazz for the past two seasons. Rubio recently told me about how the Headspace meditation and mindfulness app helped him get ahead of some challenging moments in his life and basketball career.
"In 2016, I was going through tough times," he related. "Whenever that happens, I go to a bookstore to help clear my mind and think about the problems. That's when I came across a book by Andy Puddicombe (the co-founder of Headspace)."
Rubio continued, "During the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil, I downloaded the Headspace app to learn more about meditation and started the practice for the first time. Meditation helped put everything in perspective. It can be like watching your mind from the outside." He said that regularly meditating has made a number of positive changes in his life. "I know myself better than ever but am still learning. It's helped me better find solution to problems instead of more problems."
Rubio explained that having such an app in your smartphone makes it more convenient to practice medication and mindfulness in any setting. You can more easily take "10 to 15 minutes to remind yourself to be more present." The app also provides notifications and reminders to meditate. "It will give you a quote or a positive vibe on the phone."
Convenience and reminders may help because meditation can be like basketball practice. Practice isn't always fun and isn't always something that you want to do. Just search the Internet for "Allen Iverson" and "practice" and you'll see.
"Being a professional athlete, you have to have discipline to do the right thing," Rubio said. "Some days you don't want to practice. Similarly, some days you don't feel like doing meditation."
But meditation is not like doing the Shiggy. You can't just do it when you want or need it. "You have to do it every day. It has to be a routine. Don't wait until you need it."
Rubio likened practicing meditation to practicing a corner shot, "Even if you don't use it for many games, you still have to keep practicing the corner shot for that day that you actually need to use it."
If you think that meditation is all just "serenity now," the app has an added amount of competition for folks like Rubio. "I'm a competitor. The app shows you the minutes that you'd meditated so far. This motivates you to push up your minutes."
If you are not familiar with meditation, competitive meditation may sound a bit like a contradiction, like a cinder block pillow. But Nneka Ogwumike, the Los Angeles Sparks forward and the 2016 WNBA MVP, said that the app is helping head off some preconceived notions that people may have about meditation. "People may be averse to meditation because it sounds too mystical. There is also the stigma of it not being too purposeful. But the app helps you try meditating in different settings and situations."
She added that the app has "not just tips and practices but an assortment of sounds and music. There are also different videos that address achieving happiness and gratitude."
Ogwumike said that she meditates heading into any day, "I don't feel like day has started until used this. It is mind clearing and helps maintain the calmness that you seek."
Lindsay Schaffer, Head of Sport at Headspace, said that the experiences of NBA and WNBA players like Rubio and Ogwumike as well as those of Sue Bird, point guard for the Seattle Storm, and Kyle Kuzma, forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, demonstrate the importance of building and maintaining mental fitness along with physical fitness. “There is not as much awareness of having to work on and improve mental fitness.” Shaffer, who herself was a lacrosse player at Notre Dame and previously was at Nike, emphasized that “The mind plays a crucial role in pursuing our goals, and meditation can help build the mental skills necessary to achieve our goals."
Indeed, having a “Performance Mindset” is probably more effective than having a "Oh-My-Goodness-What's-Happening Mindset." The mind and the body are intertwined in so many different ways. The health of one leads to the health of the other and vice-versa. So if you want to get your gallbladder into the game, you need to get your head in it too.
Of course, the Headspace app is not the only way to meditate and achieve mindfulness as there are a number of different options and the list is growing. Meditation and mindfulness practices have been around for ages. In fact, the origins of Headspace emerged after Puddicombe had studied meditation in the Himalayas, traveled around the world for a decade to learn more about the practices, and then eventually became ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India.
So the utility of meditation and mindfulness are certainly not new. But Headspace's new partnership with the NBA and WNBA may give more of a heads up to the importance of mental fitness and how it can also help prepare you for both mental and physical challenges in the road ahead.
Article written by Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes.