As the pressure rises during competition, we can easily get distracted. As our adrenaline flows, our mind, body and emotions go on overdrive. Sometimes these aspects of ourselves hinder our performance by distracting us from the task at hand. Have you ever noticed your heart begin to race or your chest tighten before you even step on the field? Have your hands or voice ever become shaky? Have you ever been short of breath or lightheaded? Have you noticed your thoughts beginning to race? Have you ever felt anxious or nervous? If you have, you are human. But that also means you and your performance would benefit from grounding exercises.
Achieving peak performance involves being able to focus attention on the challenge right in front of you, not the distractions around you or inside your head. Chances are, you have been told to focus countless times throughout your life—but have you ever been taught how? Grounding exercises will help set the stage for more engaged, focused and ultimately better performance.
Imagine being on the sidelines before your first series or setting up to return a punt. Your mind is racing with counterproductive thoughts, which not only increase anxiety but elevate your heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension. This can become a vicious cycle, distracting you from the task at hand and decreasing your potential for success.
Below are 2 examples of quick and easy grounding exercises you can start practicing today.
Deep breathing 4-5-6
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces the “fight or flight” response that causes feelings of anxiety or tension.*
Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
Hold for 5 seconds
Exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds
Repeat 4 times when starting out. Gradually work yourself up to do 8 total breaths.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Engaging All the Senses
Senses are in the present. By heightening your awareness of your surroundings and your body, you can also heighten your awareness of the moment.
Name out loud or to yourself:
5 things you can see – flag swaying on top of goalpost, clouds in the sky, tree in the background, bug on the ground, flickering light on the scoreboard
4 things you can feel – the cold grass on your bare feet or the warmth of your feet in your socks, the hair on the back of your neck, the tightness of your wrist tape
3 things you can hear – the shuffling in of the fans, the announcer over the PA system, the band
2 things you can smell – fresh cut grass, popcorn from the concession stand
1 thing you can taste – the watered-down lemon lime Gatorade
What to do on Gameday
On game day you may want to continue your above practices before leaving for the stadium or in the locker room pregame, but once on the field you want a practice that is even more efficient that can tap into the same effects that you achieve with the above practices.
Breath – breathe using 4-5-6 method
Sight – pick out an “anchor” to look at—make sure it is easily viewable when you are on the field (i.e. flag at top of goalpost OR strap on your right glove)
Sound – listen for a recurrent sound, acknowledge the sound without judgement (i.e. the crowd OR pregame music)
Sensation – feel your body (i.e. ground your feet, making purposeful connections between you and the ground. Feel your feet in your cleats and your cleats on the ground OR pour water on your face and feel it run down your neck)
Breath – perform one last 4-5-6 method breath
Performing these steps in this sequence gives your mind something to focus on, thereby limiting the potential for counterproductive thinking to take over. These exercises put you in the moment and prepare your body and your mind for peak performance.
Find what works best for YOU and PRACTICE.
Like all skills, grounding must be practiced regularly to work. Incorporate these exercises before and during each practice. Practice them at home. You may find them to be helpful in other anxiety-provoking situations like test taking or public speaking.
These are just two examples of grounding exercises that can be helpful for performance and in establishing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the human ability to be completely present in the moment with awareness and without judgement. The past is gone, and it doesn’t exist any longer. Equally, the future is not yet here, so it’s not real either. The only real thing is the present… and only in the present moment can you live and perform.
About the Author
The Sports Psych MDs are a Mental Health Service based out of Los Angeles, CA. Two MD’s who enhance performance by applying principles of medicine and psychology to sports and mental fitness via podcast. Dr. Armin Hoes & Dr. Torey Troggio lead the movement to elevate mental health awareness in sports and improve mental health care for athletes. “Let’s end the stigma!”
“The Athletic Academy is committed to sharing our stories and tips for tackling your goals. Our main goal is to provide content, so athletes of today can have proper knowledge, guidance, and can avoid making similar mistakes that keep them from reaching their full potential. We are so excited to be a part of this growth and we look forward to being your biggest fans!”
*Several studies have shown how deep or diaphragmatic breathing can slow your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. This kind of breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces the “fight or flight” response that causes feelings of anxiety or tension. This gives you a chance to manage those feelings and your stress levels, allowing you to calm yourself down easily in just a few moments.
Citations for further investigation:
Chevalier G. The effect of grounding the human body on mood. Psychol Rep. 2015;116(2):534-542. doi:10.2466/06.PR0.116k21w5. Elkin HK, Winter A. Grounding Patients With Hypertension Improves Blood Pressure: A Case History Series Study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2018;24(6):46-50.
Noble DJ and Hochman S (2019) Hypothesis: Pulmonary Afferent Activity Patterns During Slow, Deep Breathing Contribute to the Neural Induction of Physiological Relaxation. Front. Physiol. 10:1176. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01176
Zaccaro, Andrea et al. “How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 12 353. 7 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353
Wells R, Outhred T, Heathers JAJ, Quintana DS, Kemp AH (2012) Matter Over Mind: A Randomised-Controlled Trial of Single-Session Biofeedback Training on Performance Anxiety and Heart Rate Variability in Musicians. PLOS ONE 7(10): e46597. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046597
Heckman, Christopher, “The Effect of Mindfulness and Meditation in Sports Performance” (2018). Kinesiology, Sport Studies, and Physical Education Synthesis Projects. 47.