In conjunction with Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s #OnOurSleeves initiative and Mental Health Awareness Month, the Columbus Crew SC Strength & Conditioning Team gives a detailed look into how the Crew players utilize mindfulness and meditation exercises to remain mentally fit -- an important piece of their overall health and recovery. For tips on how to keep your family mentally fit this summer, be sure to check out Nationwide Children's Hospital's Summer Guide.
Prior to the start of individual voluntary training at the Crew SC Training Facility at Obetz, texting and Zoom calls helped the Crew SC players cope with the abrupt change in their daily routine and interactions with each other. The requirements for social distancing and self-isolation inherently created social and mental hurdles for a group of guys that under normal circumstances typically spend almost every day together.
That being said, raising mental health awareness has been an important topic addressed by the Columbus Crew technical and support staff, as well as the front office in conjunction with Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s #OnOurSleeves initiative.
The player’s training regimens help ensure that they stay in shape physically, but those regimens are also tremendous stress generators, which have physical and mental side-effects.
The mind and body work in synergistic ways. Thoughts, emotions, and mental fatigue can also affect performance, which is why physical recovery and mental recovery are intertwined. One of the ways in which Black & Gold players recover from a match or a demanding training session is with low-intensity active recovery, yoga and diaphragmatic breathing exercises.
For background, at any point in time, your body is trying to maintain a state of homeostasis (balance) between all systems and your nervous system fluctuates accordingly. Your autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary physiological processes, is balanced between the sympathetic nervous system, which is dominant during periods of stress or perceived danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which restores the body to a state of calm. These two systems work together to sustain the equilibrium and allow you to function optimally both mentally and physically. Therefore, it makes sense that spending a prolonged period of time on either end of the spectrum (parasympathetic dominance vs. sympathetic dominance) is problematic and will disrupt certain functions.
Many situations can cause a stress response within the body (a big match, job interview, or exam) and while in short bursts some stress is good, chronic stress triggers a heightened state of alertness (sympathetic dominance/fight or flight) making it difficult for the body to return to its normal state. As a result, this creates problems with digestion, insomnia, our immune system and even how we process emotions.
Maintaining that equilibrium can also be improved with mindfulness and meditation techniques, which are scientifically shown to support key aspects of preparation, performance, recovery and is utilized by the Crew players and support staff alike.
Sports take place in real-time and require athletes to be fully present. Mindfulness meditation can help athletes become acutely aware of their fluctuations physically and mentally from everyday training, matches, emotions and other daily stresses. By cultivating awareness athletes can learn about their own inner dialogue tendencies and be able to develop ways of working with it and not against it. In sports performance, this is known as achieving a state of flow or the ability to be unaffected by distractions like thoughts and sounds and completely absorbed in the moment. In recovery, mindfulness meditation with diaphragmatic breathing can also be used to induce a relaxation response, lower heart rate, relax muscles and counteract the harmful effects of stress on the body.
One of the tools Columbus’s players have access to is Headspace, one of the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness apps. As part of the partnership, Club members 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.
The use of these mental health resources, which are also available to the public, ensure that athletes have the tools to adapt during times of so much uncertainty. There are plenty of avenues used by pros and fans alike that can help you build resilience in the face of adversity and maintain your mental health throughout it all.