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Thomas ’17 studies impact of mindfulness on injured athletes

May 5, 2017

For the past three semesters, Garrett Thomas ’17 has been conducting an independent study examining the effects of mindfulness on stress reduction and athletic performance, specifically for injured or previously injured athletes at Bowdoin.

In the past few years, injuries, especially concussions, have come to the forefront of athletic discussions. In an Orient article published last spring—“Concussed at Bowdoin”—students discussed how concussions have significantly altered their Bowdoin experiences and even forced some students to take time away from campus, further prompting a discussion about proper care as well as preventative action.

Injuries are still commonplace for athletes and it was Thomas’ own experience that inspired him to take action.

“I was just coming off a knee injury so I missed all of my [junior football season],” said Thomas. “I actually went through an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction. During that time I was training and working out for the football season. Doing the mindfulness stuff and going through the workouts, I thought that it really helped me and helped improve my athletic performance, but I also just felt better in general.”

Mindfulness has become an increasingly prevalent technique in professional practice, especially in treating depression and reducing stress. But it has also gained traction in the realm of sports.

“There’s a study of soccer players in Sweden that showed that mindfulness helped reduce injuries with them, so I wanted to kind of emulate that study and apply it to Bowdoin athletes—see if we can reduce injuries here,” said Thomas.

He expects to see similar results in his study. Thomas hypothesizes that mindfulness will reduce injuries, stress, improve overall mood and possibly even improve athletic performance.

“Obviously playing sports, all your attention needs to be going to the current play rather than thinking about what happened earlier in the game or the future or something like that,” said Thomas. “You’re going to be able to be completely invested in the present moment, which theoretically should help improve athletic performance.”

Thomas’ study looks at two groups of eight Bowdoin athletes across a range of sports. Each group is subject to a four week mindfulness program, similar to the one Thomas did, in which they are taught several mindfulness techniques including seated and lying meditation, mindful yoga and mindful walking.

The mindfulness program is run with the assistance of Bernie Hershberger, director of counseling services and wellness programs at Bowdoin.

“I probably provide sports psychology consultations to approximately 10-12 individual athletes a semester and then meet with 2-3 teams a semester for group visualization/hypnosis sessions,” wrote Hershberger in an email to the Orient.

This was the last week of data collection for the study. As data collection from the second group comes to a close, over the course of the next week, Thomas will begin to analyze and form conclusions about his data. If the results of Thomas’ study indicates a connection between athletic performance and mindfulness, he foresees it playing a greater role in our sports programs even after he has graduated.

“I think that whatever we do find, if we do get positive results, then [mindfulness] can definitely be implemented in the future seasons and the future years,” said Thomas. “Having those ties with Dr. Hershberger and being that I’m on the football and track team, being able to talk to those coaches and making those connections will definitely help to implement [mindfulness] in future seasons.”

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