5 Things to Know About Mindfulness and Sports

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5 Things to Know About Mindfulness and Sports

Former college basketball player George Mumford described Wednesday how mindfulness helped him beat a drug addiction during a webinar hosted by UVA Athletics and the Contemplative Sciences Center.

What do Fred Rogers, Yogi Berra and Dr. Dre have in common? Aside from all being famous, probably not a lot.

But on Wednesday morning, they all made their way into a discussion about the practice of mindfulness that featured internationally renowned speaker, teacher and coach George Mumford.

In the webinar, hosted by University of Virginia Athletics and UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center, Mumford led a 15-minute meditation, then took questions from students, faculty, staff and others.

Mumford is a former college basketball player who said he was able to overcome a drug addiction with the help of meditation and mindfulness.

NBA legend Michael Jordan credits Mumford with transforming his on-court leadership and helping the Bulls win six NBA championships. Mumford has also worked with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and countless other NBA players, Olympians, executives and artists.

“I like to talk about this idea that life can be an exciting adventure,” Mumford said during his introductory comments. “The sun should rise within you each day in terms of the richness of your feelings and the sharpness of your perceptions.

“And so the idea is to understand that one of the greatest adventures in living is getting to know ourselves better. It’s a journey of self-discovery.”

Last year, UVA Athletics and the Contemplative Sciences Center started the Citizen Leaders and Sports Ethics Community Impact Fellowship, a new leadership program for student-athletes.

Wednesday’s event, moderated by UVA head wrestling coach Steve Garland, was part of a special monthly Virtual Meditation on the Lawn  series, offered by the CSC and its UVA partners during the spring semester.

Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

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Importance of Reflection

Asked by a UVA student-athlete about how to integrate mindfulness into very busy lives, Mumford referenced the popular rap song produced by Dr. Dre.

“It’s understanding that if you make time, you’ll have time,” Mumford said. “You have to incorporate the process into your life.

“There’s a philosopher, his name is Dr. Dre, and he said, ‘I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.’ That’s meditation. That’s a form of contemplation.

“During the day, if you reflect on, ‘What’s on my mind?’ then that’s what’s on your mind. So if I have my mind on success and my mind on being present, then I’ve got being present on my mind. Even if it’s just two minutes … you can be in your body and remember to just breathe, just feel your body, whatever posture it’s in. … You have to reflect on whether you’re moving toward your goal or away from it.”

The Naysayers

Another student-athlete asked how to get people who are unfamiliar with mindfulness to understand its benefits and be on board with it.

“If you try and get somebody to do something – if it was me, I’m going to be resistant because you’re telling me you know better than me,” Mumford said. “So it’s really more about sharing your experience and how it’s helped you.

“For me, [mindfulness] helped me with my chronic pain. It helped me with my recovery. And it helps me with being present. …

“Ask people what they want and to reflect on the times when they did really well. … Any practice that is going to help you be more present and help you be more focused is going to be helpful. The process can help you, but maybe you need to be like me and have your butt on fire before you realize that what you’re doing is not working. There has to be a want-to. It’s not for those who need, it’s for those who want it.”

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor

When Mumford was asked how practicing mindfulness has benefitted his relationships, he referenced a quote from the late television star Fred Rogers that says you need to be able to love yourself before you’re capable of loving others.

“The most important relationship is the relationship you have with yourself,” Mumford said. “So if you make your mind your best friend – or you know how to be with yourself – it will be easier to be with others.”

Yogi

Toward the end of the session, Mumford was asked how mindfulness can help with expectations and attachments.

“The Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra said, ‘You can see a lot just by observing,’” Mumford said.

“As a society, we’re so focused on pathology. We always focus on what’s wrong and we don’t focus on what’s right. And so when you don’t execute the way you want to – all that is is feedback to what you need to learn or practice. It’s a feedback loop. Know the truth and the truth shall make you free. You have to see things as they are and sometimes realize that our backhand, if we’re a tennis player, isn’t very good and we have to work on that.”

Dealing with Anxiety

Garland told Mumford that student-athlete anxiety is more prevalent than at any other time in his 21 years of coaching. He said he’s seen it manifest itself physically, mentally and emotionally and asked Mumford how mindfulness might be able to help.

Mumford took a quarter out of his pocket and told the audience that one side of the coin is freedom and potential, the other side anxiety.

“We have to embrace anxiety as our teacher,” Mumford said. “It’s telling us that we need to understand what’s going on. It’s not about being afraid or being anxious.

“It means we’re out of our comfort zone, and we can get comfortable with that, and anxiety can be a teacher. With anxiety, we’re closer to freedom than we think. We’re closer to achievement than we think…

“You want to build wellness so that when anxiety comes, it becomes an opportunity for you to level up.”

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications