APA Authors on Mindful Sport Performance

This is a guest post written by APA Books authors. Here Keith A. Kaufman, PhD, Carol R. Glass, PhD, and Timothy R. Pineau, PhD, discuss mindful sport performance.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Keith A. Kaufman, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the mental training of athletes and others who wish to improve their health and performance, with offices in Washington, DC and Fairfax, VA.

Carol R. Glass, PhD, is a professor of psychology at The Catholic University of America whose research focuses on mindfulness-based approaches to promote peak performance, and she has a private practice in clinical psychology in Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD.

Timothy R. Pineau, PhD, is the outreach coordinator at the Marymount University Counseling Center with a private practice in Washington DC, and emphasizes mindfulness principles in his work with individuals and groups.

Together, they collaborate on MSPE research, and offer MSPE team/group and individual training, instructor training, and consultation on research and best-practice (see mindfulsportperformance.org for more information).

“Eye on the ball.”  “Just relax.”  “Short memory.”  “Head in the game.”  “Come on and focus!” Anyone who has ever participated in sports has undoubtedly been given such instructions at some point.  Coaches and athletes have long understood the importance of maintaining present-moment attention, letting go of past mistakes, and keeping a level head, but not necessarily how to teach or do these things.  For much of the history of sport psychology, the dominant approach to mental training for athletes (if athletes were given mental training at all) has involved the control, suppression, or elimination of the “negative” thoughts and emotions believed to interfere with performance. Over the past few decades, however, there has been a growing recognition of the lack of convincing evidence for the efficacy of these control-based strategies (Gardner & Moore, 2004), along with increasing support for acceptance-based approaches to sport performance enhancement.  Rather than control, mindfulness- and acceptance-based approaches emphasize how to relate differently (i.e., nonjudgmentally) to thoughts and emotions once they inevitably arise.

Acknowledgement of the potential power of combining awareness and acceptance (often cited as two primary components of mindfulness) during sport performance is not entirely new (e.g., Gallwey, 1974), but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of modern research on mindfulness, did an initial investigation of its applications in sport. It took another 20 years for consistent and rigorous lines of research to emerge, and in truth, this science is still emerging.  Our group was among the first to develop and test a standardized mindfulness-based program for sport performers, which we call Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE). More than a decade of theory, research, and practical experience has been integrated into our recent book, published by APA, entitled Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement: Mental Training for Athletes and Coaches.

The core of the book is our complete 6-session MSPE protocol, structured in an easy-to-follow format and accompanied by useful exercise scripts and supplementary handouts.  The intent is for readers to be able to guide themselves or others through this innovative program, and to adapt it as necessary for their purposes (e.g., to any particular sport; working with a group, team, or individual).  MSPE uses meditation-based practices to help strengthen a mindful perspective on performance and daily life, starting with more sedentary practice and progressing to mindfulness in motion. The training culminates with the mindful practice of key sport-specific movements, building a clear bridge between mindfulness fundamentals and direct applications to sport. Additionally, we suggest how to promote commitment to this type of training (often a challenge when it comes to mental training programs), outline best-practices for MSPE leaders and participants, and highlight potential applications to realms outside of sport (e.g., the performing arts).  Also discussed in the book are the theory and science behind MSPE and other sport mindfulness programs, with research support 

to date.  Finally, two case studies present the real-life journeys of an athlete and a coach through the program, described in their own words.

Our book is intended for athletes, coaches, sport-science and mental-health professionals, administrators, and really anyone who is interested in learning more about incorporating mindfulness into his or her performance, training, and/or work.  Developing the program and writing this book has highlighted for us the vast possibilities for how mindfulness can impact emotional, physical, and interpersonal well-being, both within and outside of sport.  Beyond simply offering a program to teach new skills or strategies for better performance, our vision is for MSPE to contribute to a paradigm shift in how performers — from youth to elite professionals — relate to themselves and their success.


Gallwey, W. T. (1974). The inner game of tennis. New York: Random House.

Gardner, F. L., & Moore, Z. E. (2004). A mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach to athletic performance enhancement: Theoretical considerations. Behavior Therapy, 35, 707-723.

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