2020 has been a difficult year on and off the court. With the PBA Bubble just around the corner, players have been hard at work in the weights room and practice courts. Mental toughness becomes increasingly important, considering teams are returning to basketball for the first time in months, and are away from their families in an unfamiliar environment.
For Chris Newsome and Trevis Jackson of the Meralco Bolts, that mental preparation has taken the form of mindfulness meditation.
“In spite of the challenges, 2020 has been a year of self-growth for me,” shares Newsome. “Mental health awareness is a big thing, and meditation has helped me work on my mind space and how I deal with emotions.”
Newsome began meditating four years ago and has made it part of his pre-game routine, blocking time off to be still in the dugout and center his thoughts.
“Meditation isn’t new to me, but what’s new this year is that I didn’t have basketball for most of the year. So I was able to meditate outside the context of being an athlete and using it as part of my game,” he says.
Meditation is gaining popularity in the sports world as well as with the general public thanks to the accessibility of meditation apps, books, and guided meditation podcasts. Many athletes across different sports are taking up the practice, from LeBron James to Novak Djokovic. In the Philippines, our national boxing team meditates to end training, while college basketball teams like the LPU Pirates practice group meditation in the dugout.
Jackson shares that Kyrie Irving’s own views towards mindfulness played a factor in him starting the practice as well. “Meditation teaches you to bring it back to the present and I find myself doing it everyday,” he shares.
“Going back to the present” is one of the foundations of meditation. During meditation, a person is encouraged to clear their mind; they can also focus on a specific phrase or mantra. When your mind strays—and it will—you have to consciously bring it back to the present moment. By doing so, you build your ability to focus on what’s important even during distracting and stressful situations. Think of it as training for your mind.
“I’ve decided to look at this year with a glass half full perspective,” shares Jackson, who counts getting married in February as a reason for joy despite the challenging times. “My wife was excited for her new job, I was excited for my second season in the PBA, but then things changed.”
His wife is a Tibetan Buddhist, and with meditation being an important part of her culture, Jackson learns from her as well. “We decided to look at this year as a test and make the most of it,” he says, adding that they would work out and meditate together while isolated in their flat.
“In quarantine, you have nothing but time,” says Jackson. “I’ve also been watching my favorite players—Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard—to study their perspective on life and learn how they see the world.”
For Newsome’s part, time away from basketball has helped him appreciate the things that really matter. “I’ve been able to refocus on growing, not just as an athlete but as a person,” he says.
As the Bolts gear up for their return to action, Newsome and Jackson aim to translate their experiences in meditation into heightened focus during play and being more intentional with every move. For them, these uncertain times should push players to make use of every technique in their arsenal.
As Newsome puts it, “Meditation teaches you that even with all these distractions, we can be still. What’s ten minutes out of twenty-four hours, right?”