I cringed when I read this headline in yesterday’s Star Tribune: New Age thinking helped turn this North High team around. I knew right away what the article would say: that yet another sports team had experienced great success after supplementing their practices with a little inner reflection…also known in the media as ‘new age thinking.’
Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled every time a team publicly reveals the impact of creative visualization in the locker room. What gets under my skin is the way these ancient and proven techniques are often billed by the media as ‘new age’ – a term originally coined in the 1960s to describe a new approach to spirituality, merging Eastern and Western philosophies and traditions. Over the years, the term ‘new age’ expanded to include everything from A to Z (astronomy to Zen) – and, in the eyes of many mainstreamers, a whole lot of crazy. I know many people for whom the term ‘new age’ carries a stigma; more hippie-dippy and out-of-touch than holistic and centered.
The article I saw yesterday profiled North High, an inner city basketball team that took last place in their conference last year. Coaches hired meditation teacher Jane Barrash to lead visualization sessions with the players, and this year, the team went from worst to first. In part, the coaches say, because Barrash worked closely with the kids to help them release fears, breathe deep, visualize success and realize their potential to co-create their reality. Yes, of course! Young people are still developing their perspectives on the world and themselves; to show them how to imagine themselves at their best and believe they’re capable of it? So powerful.
Every success story like this makes my heart leap and gives me hope that all youth athletic teams (and academic, too – why not!?) will one day incorporate these mindfulness and self-realization techniques into their programs. Countless pro athletes have employed the power of mental imagery, from Muhammed Ali to the 2014 Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks (whom ESPN profiled last year for their “unusual techniques” off the field). It baffles me why major media seems startled every time another sports figure or team reveals this is part of their routine.
Reporters, producers, athletes and coaches: we need your help to move this from ‘new age’ to totally normal, from alternative to mainstream.
I have a kid who, like many, idolizes great athletes. He wants the foods they eat, the shoes they wear, the equipment they use, the shampoos they endorse. And he’s cool with visualizing success before a big game only because his dad and I have made sure he knows many of his favorite athletes do that, too. But we could use some back-up; more media examples of coaches talking about meditation as a must-have for teams, more players loudly and proudly endorsing the practice, more youth coaches incorporating guided imagery into their skills training.
The North High basketball players have already seen how mindfulness boosts their chances of winning on the court – and maybe even in life. Imagine if all of our kids knew how to breathe through stress, to believe in their power to succeed, to listen to their bodies, to feel connected to something amazing within them and bigger than them. This is my sports fantasy, but I’m visualizing it becoming a reality. Join me?
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Here are several great sites to turn to for help encouraging your kids (and maybe yourself) to embrace the power of visualization.
Imagery for Kids: Dr. Charlotte Reznick offers great guidance for parents and recorded meditations for kids.
Parenting with Presence Summit (March 18 – 21): This free upcoming summit features online interviews with thought leaders including Jane Goodall, Marianne Williamson and Arianna Huffington. (I’m an affiliate)
Left Brain Buddha: My childhood friend Sarah Rudell Beach grew up to become a teacher and an expert blogger on motherhood & mindfulness. You’ll love her posts, full of humor, great research and cool ideas.
The Ultimate Sports Parent: This site offers helpful posts about sports psychology & kids, like this one on visualization as well as audio programs that focus on stumbling blocks like anxiety and lack of confidence.
Athletes Who Meditate: Walk your kid through this slide show of current sports stars who meditate and visualize success. I especially love this quick video of basketball superstar LeBron James meditating during a time-out.