The BREATH METHOD: A Simple System to Help Prime Your Athlete’s Mindset

Practicing mindfulness and visualization have been proven to be cornerstone’s of peak performance. A plethora of professional athletes, including LeBron, Kobe, and Russell Wilson use this technique to help them get “in the zone.” Many young athletes, however, are missing out on this technique because of a lack of emphasis, training, and consistent implementation.

Based on feedback from coaches and players, my guided visualization sessions (like this one) have been one of the most impactful tools that have aided performance.

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To help you expose your student-athlete(s) to a mindfulness system, here is a 5 step pregame exercise that you can do with your child at home, during the car drive to the game, or for coaches – utilize this system during pregame warmups. This simple technique will help prime your athlete’s mindset (and yours too), so they can be in a more relaxed and focused state. This only takes 3 - 5 minutes to do. I call this the BREATH Method.

B – BREATHE: Ask your athlete to close their eyes, focus on their breath, and to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. Have them count to 5 during each inhale and to 5 again during the exhale (controlled breathing helps lower the stress hormone cortisol). After at least five deep breaths, invite them to go back to a normal rhythm breathing pattern.

R – RESET: Have them come up with a “reset” word that they can use to keep their mind in the game during down time, moments of stress, or when they fail (examples, “believe,” “confident,” or “release”). Have them say their reset word to themselves in-between each breath or during the exhale. Example: inhale 1-2-3-4-5, “Believe,” exhale 1-2-3-4-5. Do this exercise at least 5 times.

 Talking mental skills with Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo and youth campers at Dodger’s Stadium.

Talking mental skills with Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo and youth campers at Dodger’s Stadium.

E – EXIT:  Invite them to exit any and all thought, doubt, and negative energy, and simply focus on their breath and/or “reset” word. When an errant thought pops into their head (that’s ok), encourage them to come back to their breath and reset word (this is taking a mental rep to strengthen their brain, much like curls for making our biceps stronger).

A – AFFIRMATION: Once they have taken a minute or two to focus on their breath and reset word, have them identify a goal for the practice or game. Encourage them to use their imagination and visualize this goal as if it is already done (with as many senses as possible – sight, sound, touch, feeling, etc). This will help create what Sports Psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, calls a “mental groove” or a nueropathway that the brain creates, and the body and subconscious mind will later follow (this is also called nueroplasticity - where we can reshape our own brain).

Encourage them to affirm that they have what it takes to make this goal happen with a few internal statements of positive self-talk (ex: I can do this, I am a champion, I’ve put in the work, etc.).

TH – THANKFUL: Lastly, invite your athlete to take a moment and think about what they are grateful for and what makes them happy. I call this a gratitude checklist (ex: faith, family, health, friends, experiences, etc.). Gratitude has been clinically proven to reduce stress by as much as 28% (Dr. Robert Emmins, University of California, Davis) and create an optimistic and positive mindset. Have them learn to exchange expectation, with appreciation.

 Have your athlete fill out a notecard following these prompts. They can use this as a reminder during their pregame visualization/mindfulness warmup. 

Have your athlete fill out a notecard following these prompts. They can use this as a reminder during their pregame visualization/mindfulness warmup. 

This tool will have the most impact if done consistently. Having a daily ritual of visualizing and activating the calming power of mindfulness will help you as well. These principles will not only improve performance in athletics, but in school, and all walks of life.

 I believe that teaching the power of breath, visualization, positive self-talk, and gratitude can benefit anyone - even at young ages.

I believe that teaching the power of breath, visualization, positive self-talk, and gratitude can benefit anyone - even at young ages.

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Collin Henderson is the Director of FLOW Mental Performance and is the author of Project Rise: 8 Winning Habits to Build the Best Version of You.

Collin Henderson