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Less Talk and More Action Please: Youth National Team Handball Players’ Experiences of a Mindfulness Training Program

by Line M. Nielsen, Walter StaianoUlrich Kirk & Kristoffer Henriksen


Vol. 11 2020, pages 69–91
Published September 18, 2020

Abstract

Elite youth athletes are exposed to many stressors in sport and non-sport contexts and may benefit from the ability to be present in the moment and focus on the task at hand. Such skills are cultivated in mindfulness training. Guided by separate semi-structured interview guides for athletes and coaches, we interviewed eight male youth national team handball players and four of their club coaches about their subjective experiences and the effects of taking part in a Mindful Performance Enhancement Awareness and Knowledge (mPEAK) program. We used deductive and inductive thematic analyses to analyze the interviews. Barriers to engaging in the mindfulness training included non-supportive coaches and time constraints, whereas facilitators included supportive teammates and understanding its relevance. Experienced effects of the program included improved focus, concentration, and decision-making in sport; increased focus, memory, and performance in school; and increased presence in private life. The value of teaching young athletes mindfulness thus transcended contexts. Coaches saw no major effects. Athletes and coaches provided specific recommendations for setting up mindfulness training programs in youth sport, including club-integration, direct involvement of coaches, and sport-specific exercises. Based on the study, we provide specific recommendations for setting up mindfulness training programs in youth sport contexts.


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About the Authors

LINE MAJ NIELSEN is manager at SDU Dual Career (Syddansk Elite), helping elite athletes, coaches and referees to combine their sports career with an education program at University of Southern Denmark. Additionally, Line is working as a sport psychology consultant supporting individual athletes, teams, coaches and clubs. Line is a board member of the Danish federation for sport psychology (DIFO).

WALTER STAIANO is Chief Scientific Officer and Scientific Advisor for companies implementing cognitive training to boost performance and stress reduction. He is also a researcher at the University of Valencia (Spain). His research interest involves assessing the impact of physiological, psychological and neurophysiological factors on human tolerance and fatigue in elite sports, military personnel, and the corporate environment; and to develop innovative assessing tools, training methods, and optimal recovery strategies in support for customers’ needs.

ULRICH KIRK is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark. Ulrich Kirk is working mindfulness projects in the workplace funded by Velliv Foreningen and using HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) where he is investigating neural and cognitive effects arising from mindfulness training.

KRISTOFFER HENRIKSEN, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Institute of Sport Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, and head of the research unit ‘Learning and talent in sport’ (LETS). His research mainly looks at social relations and their influence on athlete development and performance with an emphasis on successful sporting environments. For more than ten years, his employment has included a specialized function as a sport psychology practitioner in Team Denmark. In this function he has worked to develop high-performance cultures in national teams and mentally strong athletes and coaches. He has supported athletes and teams during several World and European Championships and during the London and Rio Olympic Games. Kristoffer is a board member of the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP).