Basketball is a fast sport, filled with defensive pressure, quick passes and meticulous technique that could make or break the game. Little room is left for error.
When this amount of pressure is put on players it is no wonder that many teams have resorted to yoga and alternative therapies as a mental release. For the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team, the release is group meditation.
A group of 6’5” giants sitting in a dark room and sharing a soothing meditation moment with their coach before a game may seem strange. For Concordia head coach John Dore, though, the positive results speak for themselves.
It all began when Dore was approached last year by Rob Hart, a former University of Arizona football player. Hart holds strong beliefs about the power of meditation in sports, and he had an idea for Dore.
“He approached me about doing something out of the box,” said Dore. “We’re always looking for an edge, something that will make you a little better than the next guy, so we tried it out with him.”
So what exactly is this meditation experience?
“We do it before every game. We turn off the lights and we just sit there in total silence and everybody kind of does their own thing for five minutes to visualize and prepare for the game, breathe, and relax,” said Dore. “It’s about breathing and meditating and slowing your heart rate, so we tried it with the kids on the team to see if they would like it and we did it as a group. Most of them bought into it right away.”
“Most of the guys like it, it’s a team thing,” said Stingers guard Decee Krah.
“I am a very open-minded person so I was willing to try it,” said forward James Clark, who was convinced when Hart showed them statistics of how different athletes improved when they started meditation. “If professional athletes are doing it, I am open to doing it.”
Indeed, over the years more and more professional athletes and teams have been embracing meditation, including the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
George Mumford, a sports psychologist who taught meditation to the Lakers andÂ coach Phil Jackson, said in a 2006 interview with Mind Body Awareness Project, a youth-geared non-profit, that meditation is “warrior training.”
“There’s a lack of self-consciousness, there’s a relaxed concentration, and there’s this sense of effortlessness, of being in the flow,” he said about player meditation.
According to the book Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps by Jensine Andresen and Robert K.C. Forman, meditation has been proven to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and improve sense of well-being.
The Stingers said that they visualize themselves successfully executing their plays in their minds while they meditate.
“We concentrate on our breathing and we visualize things that you want to focus on during the game,” said guard Kyle Desmarais. “So if you want to focus on defence or foul shots, or whatever you want to succeed, you visualize that while you meditate.”
Desmarais said that although people may be sceptical, he personally felt the positive effect of meditation on his performance on the basketball court. “I remember last year when I started my meditation, my free throws were something I really wanted to improve, and while I was doing the meditations I was shooting them at about 80 per cent, and then I stopped doing meditation, and it dropped down to about 60 per cent,” he said.
“I started again this year and so far I am 100 per cent from the free throw line,” he said with a grin.
Dore can agree with Desmarais. “When you go into shooting free throw you want to remain calm, so if you know how to breathe properly you can slow your heart rate and you can calm yourself down,” he said.
After adding group meditations for five minutes at a time before and after a game, the Stingers haven’t looked back.
If the meditation keeps working, Dore isn’t going to mess with the winning strategy.
“As long as the guys believe it and it seems to help us, we’ll do it.”