In the 20th century sport psychology has emerged as an important study of human behavior in athletics, providing answers to enhance performance and treat disorders effecting optimal performance (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). Upon the following review of research in neuroscience it will become evident that there is a potential for a powerfully new orientation for both administering and measuring mental skills training hence forth known as neuro sport psychology. Mainstream literature in sport psychology has plead the fifth regarding educating future practitioners on the traditional purpose and power of the ancient science of meditation. Murphy, author of Golf In The Kingdom, and In The Zone –Transcendent Experiences in Sports, agrees there is a ‘metanormal’ side to athletic experience, more complex than conventional sports wisdom accounts for, which “has enormous power to sweep us [athletes] beyond our [their] ordinary sense of self, to evoke capacities that have generally been regarded as mystical, occult, or religious” (Murphy, 1995, p.4). In 1913 Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the great Spanish neuroanatomist and Nobel prize winner declared “in the adult centers the nerve paths are something fixed, ended and immutable” (Begley, 2007, p.5). The result of the hardwired view of the brain appears to have led sport psychology textbook literature to convey meditation as solely a practice to help athletes “achieve a state of deep relaxation, and facilitate concentration by disciplining the mind” (Williams, 2010, p. The result of the hardwired dogma had many implications, none of which were very optimistic for athletes. Although it appears so, whether brains can be trained fit for the zone is an answer this literature review was unable to find empirical evidence to support as a result of a lack of collaborative neuroscience research with elite athletes. The sporting culture has long been criticized for ironically displaying poor sport behavior, promoting violence, and even criminal activity- what NBA legend coach Phil Jackson (1995) calls “ a kind of spiritual deterioration, one that has seen an attitude of intimidation become the preeminent fore on the floor” (p.135). Michelangelo once said, “my soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness” which begs the question, can athletes who can sprint like Usain Bolt and jump like Michael Jordan enrich earth’s loveliness even more so through meditation and thus reach heaven sooner? The Mind & Sport Institute (MSi) helps athletes and business professionals reach peak performance and well-being through mindfulness-based performance enhancement. It appears sport psychology researchers may be cautious of alienating themselves by entering what Michael Murphy (1995) calls “the spiritual underground in sports” (p. As Vallery’s above quote suggests, the quickest way to achieve our dreams is to wake up; the question presented before the field of sport psychology and athletes alike is whether the findings of neuroplasticity will be that wakeup call to understanding practitioners fullest potential to mentally train athletes brains to perform at their peak potential. The ‘unchanging brain’ as it came to be understood remained the prevailing paradigm in neuroscience for almost a century, which insisted that no new neurons could be born (neurogenesis), and that the functions of the brains neuroanatomy structures were fixed after early adolescence (Begley, 2007).


257) – a far cry from developing the ‘metanormal’ or ‘super human’ states of consciousness Murphy’s research has discovered is experienced by elite athletes while in peak states of performance. It led sport and exercise scientists to believe that rehabilitation for adult athletes who suffered brain damage from a stroke, or transformational therapy for athletes who suffered from mental illness, and even mental skills training for increasing athletes happiness ‘set point’ as a “fools errand” (Begley, 2007).
However, as this paper has presented, if there is a way it most certainly would involve capitalizing on the phenomenon of neuroplasticity which has been proven to be significantly activated during meditation practice.
Enriched environments capitalize on the neuroplasticity principle “that experience can change our brain structure” without necessarily any meditation required (Begley, S. It has been this papers purest intention to discover ways of possibly changing this trend by contributing to the body of literature on meditation in sports; suggesting that contemplative practices may be that key nourishment that empowers athletes brains to reaching their peak potential and well-being. Typically sport and performance practitioners have relied on qualitative analysis of athlete’s self reports, assessment of their play, as well as crude physiological measures such as heart rate and brain wave activity to evaluate their effectiveness (Williams, 2010). Their focus was to answer a question that has perplexed scientists and philosophers for centuries: “does the brain have the ability to change, and what is the power of the mind to change it?” (Begley, 2007, p. The answer may result in a cultural revolution in sport and athletic training with important implications extending beyond the sport surface and rather into the brain and hearts of all those influenced by sport.
For example, in Williams’ regarded Applied Sport Psychology textbook -now in its sixth edition, readers are taught only the relaxation response technique developed by Herbet Benson (1975), which is considered a generalized application of traditional Eastern transcendental meditation without association to mysticism (Williams, 2010). The reason being was not only the false notion of the immutable brain, but also the recently disproven belief of genetic determinism, which similarly insisted that we were again stuck, fixed and immutable, but this time by our genes. Through identifying the neuroanatomy of peak performance -the actual cortical areas of elite athletes brains using FMRI and other neuro imaging techniques, sport psychologists could subsequently develop mental training and meditations to cause neurogenisis in these specific areas.
As evaluating the effectiveness of mental skills training offers insight into the best practices and the capability of practitioners in the field of sport psychology this paper seeks to answer the question, can practitioners prove greater validity to their clients improved ‘mental skills’ and, if so, what’s the most effective practices athletes should be undertaking.
Today it is understood that the expression of genes can be turned on and off through our experiences (Meaney, 2001).
The willingness of athletes and further scientific exploration by sport psychologists into the transcendental experiences spoken by athletes in the ‘spiritual underground in sports’ may present itself as a lamp guiding us the right direction.


The result of this unique collaborative inquiry was the groundbreaking understanding of the phenomenon at work in meditation known as “neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change its own functional and physical anatomy in response to repeated task demands” (Marks, 2008, p.
In contrast, Williams hardly motivates future sport psychologists to further investigate meditation and its link to ‘metanormal’ states as she suggests “to further eliminate any religious or cultic connotation, the technique does not even need to be called meditation” (Williams, 2010, p.257). In short, Begley (2007) infers that neuroplasticity allows us to sculpt our brain’s emotion circuitry as powerfully as we can sculpt our bicep muscles. Most interestingly, upon researchers delineating exactly what was causing an environment to be enriched it was found that voluntary running was the single most important factor to neurogenesis (H.
The fact is that any possibility of achieving positive evolution in sport psychology and mental skills training rests on the sports industry, including both researchers, management and athletes attention and action towards progressively accepting practices; not trying to avoid them! Davidson (2002), a leading figure in neuroscience research suggests neuroplasticity “allows for effective athletic training and makes peak performance possible” (Davidson, 2002, p. This means there is a possibility to change states experienced in meditation into athlete’s traits.
Voluntary running increased neurogenesis in “very, very old animals” as well as enhanced their learning and memory capacities, whereas forced exercise did none of the above (H. This paper presents a discovery and provocative look into answering the most current and pressing question to the sport psychology field; can we create brains fit for the zone?
Additionally, another reason why the athletes should consider meditation is because unlike weight training, there has been no report of risk or harm caused by the practice of meditation (Green & Turner, 2010). The implications of these findings not only suggest the importance of respecting athletes autonomy when initiating programs –a fact Begley (2007) states “human couch potatoes can probably exploit”, it also points to a possible window of opportunity in which coupling running with meditation may lead to increased neuroplasticity in desirable neuroanatomical areas (p.
Although running was the main cause of neurogenesis, the survival of these new neurons depend on an overall enriched environment which meditation may be a pivotal practice to creating and without which researchers suggest about 50% of the new neurons would die (H.



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