“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Sometimes you have to go off-script. Having a solid practice plan is vital for a program’s success, but “the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray,” as Robert Burns wrote, and when you see the need to deviate from the plan, do so with confidence and validation. One Friday this past season, I felt the call to go off-script.
Fridays are typically “match prep practices,” and these practices are pretty detailed with how they are scripted out. The practice before a tournament is vital one, and whether it’s superstition or practicality, I correlate our competition performance with how well we prepare.
Because I felt Jesus speaking to me that day, I went off-script. Maybe it was the unusually quiet gym – there were no bouncing basketballs, no whistles, no sneakers squeaking, and no coaches or players yelling. I’d just given the team a water break, and as they returned to the practice room, they jogged quietly. For once, we had silence, and all you could hear was the pounding of shoes on the mat.
I was inspired. Having recalled a workshop in which in which I learned a little about mindfulness, I had the team spread out on the mat by themselves. I said, “Right now, you must on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in this moment.”
Mindfulness means we can improve our focus, concentration, and ability to let go of the negative thoughts that can derail us from our quest for success. I asked the team to close their eyes and breathe, transitioning through different physical positions—not yoga positions, but ones from the sport of wrestling (neutral stance, bottom base, on their bellies and backs). After we went through the positions, I asked them what they had on their minds. One said he was thinking about his last match, which he’d lost, and another said he was thinking about the next day’s meet. A third wrestler admitted that he was excited about going to the movies that night.
We had a chuckle about that, and then I told them we were going through the exercise again. This time, as they take deep breaths with their eyes closed, they should now visualize their moves. Take four deep breaths, and then open your eyes and hit the move. We alternated between calm awareness / visualization and focused and explosive execution.
I thought it was time well spent at practice. At the tournament the next day, I reminded the team about this exercise, and I advised them to take time away from the madness of the gym, to visualize and breathe. Also, during matches, I asked kids to visualize and breathe whenever there were down times. I truly feel that there was something to this exercise. After all, look at the success that Phil Jackson had with mindfulness as an NBA coach.
This is where some of you might be feeling a little uneasy. Mindfulness does have a bad rap in some Christian circles. It can be associated with non-Christian ideologies and feared as being something that tempts us away from Christ and His presence. Can mindfulness and Christianity go together at all?
Christian meditation is a thing, in fact. Sarah Grace, author of the Calming Grace ministry, wrote an article that shares seven simple Christian mindfulness exercises:
(“7 Christian Mindfulness Exercises to See God in Daily Life,” www.calminggrace.com)
To me, “meditation” or “mindfulness” is the perfect time to speak with Christ. I never saw these practices as a deviation from my faith. Anytime I engaged in them, I would use it to bring myself closer to Him. Bringing things back to the verse from the book of Psalms, a heart that meditates on the Lord is one that is strong. When we bring our inward thoughts under control, we can give them willingly to Jesus. The term meditate means “to contemplate things at a level of higher awareness,” and the root of the word is mete, meaning “to measure.”
I feel that meditation is a means for us to measure our own faith and to help us find greater strength and inspiration from Christ, our Rock. For our non-Christian athletes, we can teach them to use visualization and mindfulness exercises to improve their athletic performances. For our Christian athletes, we can do both – improve their athletic performances and help them strengthen their relationships with Christ.
Moment of Kaizen:
Related Passage: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
The psychological and spiritual sides of athletes are often overlooked, but they can be lessons your athletes learn that connect to more areas of their lives than any other physical lesson. Enable your athletes to find their connections to Christ in this manner.
November 14, 2021
This article is a part of a series of Coaches Devotionals that I will be writing over the course of the next year. Please click here if you would like to receive email notifications when a new devotional is published.
Tag(s): Coach's Blog