Breathing Exercises For Athletes

Hanson was an amateur when he tossed the 878, but the following year he turned pro, joining a regional pro tour in the northwestern U.S. He found it hard to get back into the zone of that holiday evening. I just can’t get there again, he said in 1996. I guess I’m trying to concentrate too hard.

Besides the age- old distractions of trying too hard and worry, there may be more distractions than ever before for athletes, both long and short-term: complacency due to big contracts, agents, free agency, corporate sponsors, and increasing media scrutiny. Some of the traditional distractions:

• fear (especially of failing)

• ego

• self-consciousness

• conscious thought processes

• winning and losing

• pain and fatigue

The distraction of winning and losing can be me most debilitating of all, psychologists say, because it can lead to most of the other distractions. Those who focus only on the performance may perform better when their arousal hormones kick in. Task vision is seeing only what you need to see when performing an athletic feat. It is removing from your little world all unwanted and unnecessary distractions to give your full attention to the moment. Many athletes imagine everything on the outside of the task to be blurry and insignificant, while everything on the inside is crystal clear.

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They create an airfilled bubble. On the outside, they have no control and in fact, no interest; on the inside they feel powerful because they have already developed the skills to control their fate, to deal with any problems or situations that pop up. And yet, an athlete may have to broaden his task vision to include what his opponents are doing, what the coach is yelling, and sometimes even what the referee might rule. According to former runner Sebastian Coe, two-time gold Olympic medallist in the 800 and 1,500 meter races, athletes have to have an awareness of opposing runners, sensing how other people are breathing, whether they’re breathing hard and whether their feet are coming down heavily that way you respond to a break. In that regard, Coe was always aware of his opponents’ shadows on the track.

Deep concentration and confidence in oneself and abilities take the athlete to a state where there is no conscious awareness of the task, but plenty of unconscious awareness. The Japanese refer to it as mushin or no mind. After much practice of motor skills and concentration, the athlete lets his mind go, separates himself from the task. Consciousness gets in the way, said Karl Newell, a kinesiologist at the University of Illinois. If a pianist starts worrying about where his fingers go while he’s playing, it will change the performance.

Sometimes things happen beyond an athlete’s control. Nancy Lopez never won the U.S. Open but has finished second three times and she says she could have beaten Hollis Stacy in 1977 if her pants’ zipper hadn’t broken on the first hole. I spent the whole day worrying that someone would see my underwear, Lopez said.

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