You have probably heard that it is important to be “in the moment”. You might have a general idea of what the means, but maybe not really know what it is or how to do it better.
In psychology, we often talk about being in the moment when we are talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as the act of being aware of the present moment in a non-judgmental, accepting, and non-avoidant way (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). In plain English: When we are mindful, we are focused on the here and now, we are willing to experience whatever might come with that moment (good, bad, or otherwise), and we are not judging the experience as much as we are just observing it.
The benefit of mindfulness is this: The more “present” you are in this moment, the greater the chance you have to use all of your tools in this moment. This means that the more mindful player will get more out of practice and will perform better in games. Or, more simply, if in this moment you are dribbling the ball, the mindful player will be more likely to dribble the ball well; if in this moment you are defending against a cross, the mindful player will be most likely to play the best defense; same goes for shooting, running to open space, or just about anything else you can think of.
So how do you become more mindful? Practice! Most of us have learned to live life partially focusing on “this moment”, but also thinking about past events or what might happen in the future. It takes practice to learn to spend more time in “this moment”.
One option is to do a training program. There are great apps for this, such as Headspace (the most popular, but also requires a paid subscription) or Smiling Mind (one I quite like, which is free). In both cases, they offer a training program that walks you through guided practice and helps you learn to be more mindful. Of course, you can also get professional in-person training as well.
But you can also start with a task like this: “mindful dribbling”.
This is a patient task – there is no rush. Stand in the grass with your ball. Take a moment to notice how your feet feel in your shoes and how your shoes feel on the ground. Notice how little movements change those feelings. Now put your foot on the ball. Notice how this feels and how small movements cause the ball to rotate. After a few moments, give the ball a light tap, noticing what it feels like for the ball to come off your foot. Notice your other foot taking over as you take a step, again observing the feelings of movement, the sensations of your new foot pressing into the ground. Now give the ball another tap, again noticing what it feels like to pick your foot up, put it on the ball, tap it forward. Slowly, continue to take these touches on the ball, observing as much of the experience as possible, as you work your way around the field.
Start by doing this for three minutes. Throughout those three minutes, the goal is to spend as much time observing your experience as possible. If your mind drifts, notice those thoughts but then let them go, and come back to your focus on the task at hand. When you are done, reflect back on the experience, considering what it was like to focus on the task at hand, how much you were able to stay focused, and how you refocused when you drifted off. Repeat this task every few days. When you feel like you are spending most of the three minutes focused on the moment, then try to increase the time by a few minutes. Keep building this up over time and see how far you get!