The impetus for this study is found in the notion that sports participants are likely to be assisted in their sporting performances when they possess the faculty of self-awareness in their physical body, of their emotional dispositions and the mind states. In sports, these are known as kinaesthetic awareness, emotional control and focussing or attention control (Syer & Connolly 1984). Gaining an understanding of how participants experience mindful learning, and their preferences about them, will be valuable information which could inform future coaching practice. If the coach understands what the learner is feeling and experiencing in their learning journey then the effective coach will modify his coaching behaviour to best maintain the learner’s safety, motivation, enjoyment and optimise the learning opportunities consistent with the approach he has chosen. The pilot studies conducted begin to shed light on the learners experience and what value they placed on mindfulness based coaching approaches which aim to facilitate their mindful learning.
The nature of alpine skiing lends itself to mindfulness, however traditional methods of coaching snowsports are based on teacher led, demonstration and pupil imitation. As research in mindfulness begins to reach the public arena is seems natural to explore the application of this faculty to many different contexts, sports included. The alpine skiing environment is open and changeable, skiing takes place in outdoor mountain situations, which are exposed to weather and temperature variations, influencing the terrain and snow condition. Skiing takes place in curvilinear motion and requires gravity, both of which are inextricably intertwined, and present many forces which the skier may feel and manipulate.
Skiing skills are complex, gross and minor motor skills being required, the sport presents many opportunities for similar outcomes being achieved through a variety of inputs. Underpinning the nature of mindful learning is its potential to make novel distinctions, leading to a greater sensitivity to one’s environment, openness to new information, flexible structuring of perception and broader perspectives in problem solving (Langer 2000). When one understands skiing, its context and the skier, the application of making novel distinctions becomes increasingly clear and abundant. Firstly, however one has to emerge from a pre-occupation with the technical components in order to take the holistic perspective of developing skiing performance. It is my experience that from this broader backdrop one is able to develop skiers skilful skiing far beyond that which would be achieved with traditional technical preoccupations.
The aim of this study is to help understand the experiences of participants as they learn motor skills and develop sporting performance though mindful learning. This study looks at the learner’s experience of mindful learning and aims to report on what those experiences are, in the absence of any expectations. The study aims to avoid having preconceived hypothesises which may restrict and narrow the focus of the research, Thomas and Nelson (2001). As a researcher, conducting qualitative studies, one should always keep an open mind (Lynch 2010) and remain aware that there may be a multitude of various participant responses and a variety of causes. This study is concerned with gaining an insight into the full breath of participant’s experiences as they develop their sporting performance and motor skills through mindful learning, and does not put forward any hypothesis as to what type of experiences these will be. The study aims to inform future sports coaching practice, wherever this may be possible, through written articles in snowsports professional publications and by in person presentations to groups of professionals at gatherings and conferences.
This rationale for this study is influenced by literature which largely focus upon sports teams and individual athletes gaining performance enhancement through the use of mindful meditation practices (Kee & Wang. 2008; Bernier, M. 2009; Hochstetler 2003; Marks, 2008). Many sports coaches, perhaps the majority, do not have the coaching context, time or resources, which enable longer, term meditative and contemplative training regimes to be included in their coaching / teaching professional work. By taking a closer look at how learners experience mindful learning in sport, possibly some insights will be gained as to how coaches can integrate coaching methods which will encourage mindful learning.
The scope of such mindfulness may be at a surface level in terms of the participant’s personal faculty of mindfulness, as is known in the Buddhist traditions. However, if transferring some mindfulness principles into motor skill learning, has a positive and desirable effect on learning experience, then this could be of great benefit to coaches and participants. If the learner’s experience of mindful learning is enjoyable and positive, then this may serve as motivation to explore the development their own personal mindfulness faculties.
The transference of principles underpinning Eastern movement and how these relate to western participants in physical education moves closer towards investigating the role of mindfulness in skill acquisition. Lu, Tito & Kental (2009) argue that the ‘traditional model of physical education and health, absent of mindfulness, falls into contradictions that are destructive to the person and urge instead for a more holistic approach’. The reinforcement of a body & mind approach to skill acquisition rings true from a personal coaching practice viewpoint; I observe many examples where learners biggest inhibitors are their mind state, prejudices, value judgments, pre-conceived ideas (about the sport), expectations of themselves, emotional dispositions and so on. The scope of this study, however, is very limited but it may serve in some small way to inform and influence professional practice within sports coaching.
Copyright John Arnold 2012