Football and mindfulness?
Most people wouldn’t think that football and mindfulness would really go together, but in Peace Class, you never know what will happen. Last Monday morning my students came in even groggier than usual. It was the morning after the Superbowl and most of the kids had stayed up much too late. Iwas trying to think of a way to wake them up so that we could do our mindfulness practice.
We were getting ready to do a practice adults call “noting” that we call “Popcorn” in our Peace of Mind Curriculum. In this practice we try to count our breaths and whenever we notice that our minds have wandered away we “pop” our finger and then start counting again. It’s a fun practice that the kids enjoy, especially when I call it a mindfulness game. We always talk about how this practice helps us to strengthen our focusing muscles so that it is easier for us to concentrate.
“How do you think the ability to focus might have helped Nick Foles (the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) win the game?” I asked. Suddenly everybody was awake. The kids had a lot of opinions but most were about the Patriots. So I decided we needed a reenactment.
I said, “Okay so say that I’m the quarterback.” I grabbed the little Peace bear that sits on my shelf to be my football. Now, I know next to nothing about football, but I get the basic idea, so I chose someone to be the receiver and she ran back and forth across the room from me. Then I chose three kids to be the people who are trying to block the receiver. Then I chose some kids to be the giant men trying to tackle me. Then I chose some kids to be the cheering crowd on either side. Then I chose some kids to represent the millions of people watching at home. Once everybody had a role we started the “game.”
In slow motion, I pretended to throw the ball to my receiver and I narrated my thoughts. “Geez the receiver is running all over the place, and those big guys keep blocking him, and these giants are running at me ready to mow me down, and the fans are so noisy, it’s deafening. And there are millions of people watching this at home. My job is on the line and my coach and all my teammates and all their families are counting on me to make this pass. Yikes! That’s so much pressure!!!”
Then we froze and I asked the kids what I needed to do. “Focus!” they said. “Breathe!” they said. “Block it out!” they said. “Aha,” I said. “So do you see how the practice of trying to focus on your breath and then noticing when your mind wanders and trying to bring it back over and over again could come in handy for the quarterback?” I said. And they got it. I saw the light bulbs going off like a Christmas tree. So we sat and we did our mindfulness practice like a football player would.
Many professional sports teams have Mindfulness Coaches now, including the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Cubs, the LA Lakers, and the Golden State Warriors. As George Mumford, the author, mindfulness teacher, and mindfulness coach to Michael Jordan and LeBron James says, most professional athletes are about the same when it comes to physical ability. The thing that sets apart the truly great players is what he calls the “mental game.” My students can’t control how their bodies will turn out – how tall or big they are going to be is already determined by their genes. However, the mental game is available to anyone. And it is something that will help them succeed at whatever they decide to do. – Linda