Mind and muscle: a winning combination

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Mind and muscle: a winning combination

Girls cross country runners practice mindful breathing, guided by Julie Murphy.

Girls cross country runners practice mindful breathing, guided by Julie Murphy.

Melissa Martinez

Girls cross country runners practice mindful breathing, guided by Julie Murphy.

Melissa Martinez

Melissa Martinez

Girls cross country runners practice mindful breathing, guided by Julie Murphy.

Morgan Miller, Copy Editor

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Meet Julie Murphy, a mindfulness yoga instructor from DeWitt, Iowa. She works at a youth yoga studio and with various athletes to improve their mental game, which complements their physical training.

Although new to Pleasant Valley, Murphy was an English teacher in DeWitt and is currently a youth yoga instructor with Challenge to Change. This past summer, she worked with the baseball team, who went on to qualify for state for the first time since 2003. Now the volleyball and girls cross country athletes are getting the opportunity to learn from Murphy, right in the high school’s wrestling room.

Usually in Murphy’s sessions, she teaches a variety of mindfulness exercises like visualization, positive affirmations and meditation. In addition, the girls learned yoga they can practice in their own lives. Murphy thinks yoga is crucial for athletes because it links the mind and body with breath, vital in athletes for body awareness.

 In Murphy’s words, “Yoga is more much more than physical poses; it is about breathing through an uncomfortable pose or situation, it is noticing when a fear arises for you before you do something, whether that be a handstand or stealing a base, and being aware of what is going on with you in that moment.” Murphy teaches that being able to conquer your fears in yoga translates to the playing field. 

In sports performance and everyday life, positive self talk is important for everyone, but teens are especially susceptible to a negative mindset. Murphy asked the girls cross country team to think about this scenario: “If someone talked about you the way you talk about yourself, would you choose to be friends with them? If the answer is no, then you have the power to change that.” 

Senior Sophie Curtis enjoyed the positive self-talk reminder. She said, “I loved the focus on creating a positive mindset. There are many occasions when negative thoughts tend to occupy my mind, but focusing on channeling positive energy helps me feel more positive and motivated.” The girls cross country team, as well as the volleyball team, will continue to learn from Murphy as their seasons progress.

Murphy believes all athletes in every sport can benefit from mental training. “Every sport is different and requires a specific skill set, but the mental game is all the same,” Murphy said. “The mind can be a scary place, especially for an athlete who has all eyes on them which brings about a lot of internal and external pressure to excel all of the time.” Mental training can often make or break a player’s game, because of their self confidence. If they don’t believe enough in themselves and their abilities, then their performance will reflect it.

Physical strength is often the only focus of practice every day, which means the mental side is often forgotten. Murphy said, “It does not matter if you have the best running back on your team if the story they tell themself when they step onto the field is ‘I am going to mess this up, I always mess up when we play this team. They have the best defense.’ because they have already decided in their mind how they will perform.”

Luckily, just a few little changes can fix this. For example, athletes can take two to five minutes before getting out of bed to clear their mind and focus on breathing. Additionally, writing down five positive affirmations about themselves before falling asleep, will help their self talk become more positive. Finally, by listening to the voice in their head and correcting it when negative thoughts flood in, can make their brain change to be more optimistic. All of these things will start to show improvements on the court without more physical training.