There are a number of things that you can do during practice and competition to help ensure effective performance in game situations. The following information will describe how using proper breathing techniques can help enhance performance and improve your chances of successful performance in stressful situations.
Avoid the spiral. One of the ways in which athletes lose control or spiral the fastest is by letting their breathing get out of hand. This is one of the primary reasons why coaches and athletes in other sports like football and basketball call timeouts, or have mound visits in baseball.
Balance it out. Many athletes know that nutrition, strength and conditioning, regeneration / recovery and hydration are important for success. However, many fail to realize that the brain (particularly the frontal lobe region) is in desperate need of not only glucose, but oxygen. Oxygen intake needs to be a regular part of every athlete’s performance regimen.
Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing. There is an old saying that states, “The easiest way to hide something from someone is to put it right under their nose.” This is true for one of the most profound phenomena in the world of athletic performance. The very essence of life itself is found in our intake of oxygen, yet so many athletes do not take the advantage of breathing properly during training and competition. Not only is oxygen needed for physiological functioning, but it is also very important for brain health (which is directly responsible for decision-making during competition).
There are two vital things that your brain needs for both survival and optimal performance: oxygen and glucose. Your frontal lobe which is directly responsible for effective decision making (attention, integrated thinking and innovation), is actually the LAST place in the brain that receives nutrition. This is important because you need to be able to make crisp and immediate decisions during pivotal and late moments of competition.
The Gatorade and snacks in the dugout will take you only so far, but your intentional focus on diaphragmatic breathing can exponentially improve your ability to think, strategize and react in critical situations.
So how do you do it? It’s relatively simple, requires three steps and takes only 10 seconds.
- Inhale slowly through your nose for 3 seconds
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for 5 seconds
Incorporating diaphragmatic breathing during practice and games will go a long way in helping your relax and make snap decisions when you need them the most.
Josiah Igono, MS, CSCS is the Peak Performance Coordinator for the Texas Rangers.