USA Swimming, the National Governing Body for the sport of swimming in the United States, and Headspace, the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness app, are partnering to bring meditation to all USA Swimming National Team athletes and coaching staff by providing access to Headspace’s popular app. National team swimmers were first introduced to Headspace while training for the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, and will continue to use the app as a mental training tool leading up to the 2019 World Championships and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
While athletes go to great lengths to physically train their bodies, taking care of the mind is often neglected. When it comes to performance, mindfulness helps athletes stay focused, free from distraction, and ensure they are in the optimal flow state. In recovery, mindfulness can be used to induce the relaxation response, lowering the heart rate, relaxing the muscles, and counteracting the harmful effects of stress on their bodies. This ensures athletes have the ability to recover that much quicker, and often has the added benefit of improving sleep quality. Meditation also increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for focus, and decreases grey matter in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for stress and fear.
“While meditation and mindfulness can help with motivation through extended periods of training, it’s equally valuable in competition,” said Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace. “Typically the technical ability of athletes at the elite level is quite similar, so the mental game becomes even more important. Every athlete is looking for that advantage, that edge. So showing up with a mind that is focused and at the same time relaxed, a mind that is in a state of flow, is invaluable.”
A study with elite swimmers found that self-reported optimal performance, or “flow,” states shared similarities with typical factors involved in mindfulness and acceptance states. In the study’s exploratory interviews, elite swimmers described that they had been particularly mindful and accepting of their bodily sensations while in their flow state.
“Meditation is a practice, which, once discovered, I was inherently utilizing to bring my best performance when the stakes were highest,” three-time Olympian, and oldest individual gold medalist in swimming history, Anthony Ervin said. “With Headspace, our National Team can actively continue to develop their mental constitution for the pursuit of excellence.”
“Creating a healthy, positive and winning environment for our team happens both in and out of the pool,” USA Swimming National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko said. “We are continuously looking for ways to help our athletes achieve their optimal level of performance and establishing an environment of mental wellbeing is an important part of their training. We’re happy to be working with Headspace to provide National Team athletes with an easy to use tool to introduce them to, or further help them develop their meditative practices.”USA Swimming National Team athletes and coaching staff will have access to Headspace’s comprehensive library of meditation content, including “Headspace for Sport,” which is designed to strengthen their mindfulness and meditation skills through a variety of 10-session “packs,” including Motivation, Concentration, Training, Competition, Communication, Analysis and Recovery.
 Bernier, Marjorie, et al. “Mindfulness and Acceptance Approaches in Sport Performance.” Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, vol. 3, no. 4, 2009, pp. 320–333., doi:10.1123/jcsp.3.4.320.