For elite athletes across the globe, one microsecond can be a deal maker or breaker – which is why so many are eager to step ‘outside the box’ to cut their time, improve their speed, or boost their agility.

From meditation and yoga to art therapy and nature walks, athletes continue to try out alternative ways to cut back on stress, get better sleep, and give their very best selves to their sport. Kobe Bryant is just one top athlete who believes that excellence is as much a matter of the mind as it is of the body. For him, taking time to de-stress and focus on ‘the here and now’ is “like having an anchor. If I don’t do it, it feels like I’m constantly chasing the day”. Below are just three new approaches that Malaysian athletes can try to boost their performance, inspired by fellow sports stars from across the globe.

Art as a Creative Outlet

‘The Abstract Athlete’ is a travelling exhibition set up by two former high-level athletes who had multiple concussions and who decided to balance the raw competitiveness of the ‘sports culture’ with the softer, more fluid, expansive culture of art. The Abstract Athlete holds workshops and events to inspire athletes to pay heed to their creative calling. Vernon Davis, a member of the Washington Redskins, believes that art is a big part of who he is, as his sport is. Percy King, former defensive of Ohio State, states that as a creative pursuit, art can help battle the stress that competitive athletes have to face. “Art gives me an outlet to be able to express myself in so many ways and stay stress-free”, he told VCU News. Indeed, the focus of art is exactly on this – losing oneself in the present moment, heading to a natural spot and drawing a simple flower or other aspects of beautiful Mother Nature. Indeed, to boost the benefits of creation, head to a natural spot if you can. Majestic landscapes do so much more than provide you with ideas for your work; they also have an inherent ability to lower stress levels, just as art does.

Meditation: Finding the Rhythm in Sport and Life 

As mentioned above, Kobe Bryant, does much more than attend regular cardiovascular and strength training workouts regularly. He also makes time for meditation – a habit shared by one of the greatest in his sport – Michael Jordan. In the middle of a tense game, Bryant relies on the intense focus honed by this ancient art, to “feel that the crowd is silent and that moment begins to be the moment for me”. Bryant’s personal experience with meditation is backed by numerous studies, including one University of Pennsylvania study which shows it lowers stress in a powerful way, but also intensifies focus.

Music: Pump Up the Inspiration

Not many people know this, but a key part of Cristiano Ronaldo’s warm-up routine prior to games involves listening to music to get into the right frame of mind. The whizz soccer player has a good reason for doing so. Researchers from Georgia Southern University found music can stimulate enhanced performance, reduce anger and depression, and divert an athlete’s focus away from feelings of fatigue. It can even improve speed – so long as the beats are fast! Another study undertaken at Brunel University found a strong link between music and physical endurance; music can essentially help you give more while you are taking part in cardiovascular exercise.

Being a top athlete involves so much more than keeping in good physical shape or sticking to a strict training routine. It is also about taking yourself psychologically to that place called the ‘Zone’ – a rather magical state in which mind, body, and spirit seem to flow in synergy. Music, meditation, and art are just three ways of doing so; can you think of your very own way of reaching sporting nirvana?

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