As a spiritual person I have found that my beliefs and faith have helped me become a better athlete. When understanding sports, many people overlook the mental aspects of the game. It has taken me years to find a mindset and practice that helps me perform at my highest level but with the help of teammates, sports psychologists, coaches and books I have come to appreciate the lessons of faith as a source of stability in the emotionally volatile nature of sports.
Historically, religion has guided people in different ways to grow as individuals and as communities. Having faith has served as a source of motivation and purpose. As Alexis Mourning (team-mate and friend) once described to me; her religion has guided her to the belief that playing volleyball "is her purpose in life." This allows her to succeed because she wants to make the most out of her God-given talent for herself, family, fans, teammates, Etc.
For me, by being a student of spirituality I have discovered that some of the teachings in various religions help inspire me in times of defeat. Specifically, I remember repeating prayers in my head when I was aced (when a player is served at and messes up the pass) three times in a row. My hands were clammy, heart beating double-time and I was grating my teeth. I couldn't have been any more tense. As I took a deep breathe and told myself, "serenity, courage, wisdom" I felt confident and was somehow able (maybe by coincidence) to pass a perfect ball the following serve.
Through faith athletes can gain confidence in situations that might seem hopeless. For example, the Buddhist perspectives on suffering have taught me how to rise in the face of challenges; "the causes of suffering are also the means of release" (Mark Epstein). It has taught me to advance through times of struggle and defeat by changing my 'perception' of the situation. Instead of lamenting on a loss, an injury, or technical error, I have learned to understand these times as chances for growth. Through the readings of Sameet Kumar I have understood that suffering "arises from our desire for control and stability in an uncontrollable and unstable world". Being defeated in sport is inevitable. As athletes, we constantly experience a variety of challenges whether they be physical, emotional, or mental and by using faith we can overcome them by looking at the challenges from a different point of view.
Many sports psychologists will tell you that routines are extremely important in athletic success. Routines are one highly important part of sports that an athlete can control. Religion can guide these routines that sports psychologists often promote. For some of my teammates, I see a simple biblical verse written on their wrists as a game ritual. By allowing their faith to guide their sport they are able to focus their mindset through the lens of 'confidence' and 'positivity'.
Some religious practices can be extremely beneficial for athletes. It can allow them to find routine, purpose, motivation and confidence. Taking control of your 'mental game' as an athlete can help improve consistency and toughness; two crucial elements in higher level sport.