Enhancing Performance Through Wellbeing

 

‘Flourishing’ is a word used in the positive psychology world to describe optimal human functioning in all areas of one’s life. Wellbeing is the art of understanding how you feel so that you can take productive steps toward cultivating greater levels of flourishing. The aim of this article is to equip parents, coaches and players with tools that will help support their wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them.

When players are less stressed and better rested, they tend to perform to greater levels and experience less injuries.[1] The brain science indicates that intentional wellbeing habits such as mindfulness, habitual gratitude, sleep prioritization and targeted breath work, have the ability to reduce stress, improve cognitive performance, encourage self-regulation and enhance wellbeing. [2] For athletes especially, these are important tools to cultivate not just for performance but for life.

 
Below are 3 evidence-based interventions that have been shown to enhance wellbeing:

 

 

Cultivate gratitude

Our brains love to experience positive emotions and one of the easiest ways to generate positive emotion is through the practice of gratitude. Think of gratitude as a buffering tool, one that has a number of amazing benefits for the brain. [3] Gratitude has been shown to enhance our capacity to cope with stress, increase our motivation and lastly enhance our ability to be resilient in the face of hard challenges. [4]

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the skill of staying present to the unknown, unfolding moment, non-judgmentally. [6] When we feel danger or stress, chemicals are released in our brain, causing the fight, flight or freeze response. Mindfulness meditation and breath work, helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system back to homeostasis by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. [7] This capacity to pay attention to the present moment is suggested to enhance players abilities to recover from mistakes, support good decision making and foster greater attentional control. [8] Alongside these performance benefits it has also been shown to lower blood pressure, increase immune function and reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. [9]

Sleep

As an athlete, sleep is one of the most important things you can do to help your body recover from training. We know from the research that sleep disturbances and insufficient sleep has been proven to negatively affect athletic performance, inhibit recovery and increase a players susceptibility to injury. [12] With this in mind, as parents and coaches, prioritizing and championing good sleep routines, particularly for our adolescent players is imperative. During adolescence the teenage brain undergoes intensive remodeling, this process is called “synaptic pruning.” [13] This is where the brain strengthens the neural pathway it needs, becoming more efficient in processing and prunes away ones it doesn’t use. [14] The average developing adolescent brain requires 9 hours of sleep each night to support this developmental process and growth. [15] Athletes require the upper limits of this guideline because of the training and physical stimulus required of them. Adequate sleep is critical for overall mental wellbeing, cognitive performance and ensuring adequate recovery between trainings. [16]

Learn More

 

New Zealand Football’s Player Welfare team are here to help our football communities learn, understand, and apply nutritional principles for our footballers, taking the latest football specific research and consultation with High Performance Sport NZ dieticians.

 

If you’d like to dig deeper, book a wellbeing workshop for your club, register to attend a regional workshop, or register for our free national Health and Wellbeing in Football Webinar this month.

 

 

Download our mindfulness meditation that you can take players through before games and trainings here.

 

 

To register for a workshop near you, or for more information, email your federation’s Player Welfare Officer. You can meet the team here.

 

Join our national Health and Wellbeing in Football Webinar – Monday 14th June 7:00-8:00pm. Register here.

 

 

 

 

References

 

[1] Field, T. (2020). Stress and Sleep Disturbances During a COVID-19 Lockdown April 2020. Psychology and Mental Health Care, 4(5), 01–05. https://doi.org/10.31579/2637-8892/092

[2] Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J.-J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

[3] Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J.-J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

[4] Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J.-J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

[5] Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality: an International Journal, 31(5), 431–451. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2003.31.5.431

[6] Krishnan, H. A. (2021). Mindfulness as a Strategy for Sustainable Competitive Advantage. Business Horizons. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2021.02.023

[7] Gerritsen, R. J., & Band, G. P. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

[8] Verhaeghen, P. (2020). Mindfulness as Attention Training: Meta-Analyses on the Links Between Attention Performance and Mindfulness Interventions, Long-Term Meditation Practice, and Trait Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 12(3), 564–581. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01532-1

[9] Gerritsen, R. J., & Band, G. P. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

[10] Hunt, M. G., Rushton, J., Shenberger, E., & Murayama, S. (2018). Positive Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Physiological Stress Reactivity in Varsity Athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(1), 27–38. https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.2016-0041

[11] De Couck, M., Caers, R., Musch, L., Fliegauf, J., Giangreco, A., & Gidron, Y. (2019). How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 139, 1-9. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.02.011

[12] Field, T. (2020). Stress and Sleep Disturbances During a COVID-19 Lockdown April 2020. Psychology and Mental Health Care, 4(5), 01–05. https://doi.org/10.31579/2637-8892/092

[13] Sharma, anjali, & Sootha, B. (2021). Deleting Neurons: A closer look at Synaptic Pruning. https://doi.org/10.14293/s2199-1006.1.sor-.pp8zond.v1

[14] Sharma, anjali, & Sootha, B. (2021). Deleting Neurons: A closer look at Synaptic Pruning. https://doi.org/10.14293/s2199-1006.1.sor-.pp8zond.v1

[15] Brand, S., Lemola, S., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Grob, A., & Kalak, N. (2014). Sleep duration and subjective psychological well-being in adolescence: a longitudinal study in Switzerland and Norway. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 1199. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s62533

[16] Brand, S., Lemola, S., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Grob, A., & Kalak, N. (2014). Sleep duration and subjective psychological well-being in adolescence: a longitudinal study in Switzerland and Norway. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 1199. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s62533

[17] Scott, H., Biello, S. M., & Woods, H. (2019). Social media use and adolescent sleep patterns: cross-sectional findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/z7kpf

[18] Brand, S., Lemola, S., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Grob, A., & Kalak, N. (2014). Sleep duration and subjective psychological well-being in adolescence: a longitudinal study in Switzerland and Norway. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 1199. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s62533