Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is a big believer in using meditation as part of his pre-game rituals (a practice recently featured on Backstage Lakers) to help him prepare for the game, completing a session on the sideline right before tip-off:
Generally, meditation is a subset of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has become a hot topic recently — especially in areas like Los Angeles — and used as a marketing tool, but the concept boils down to one thing: keeping your focus and attention on each and every present moment.
So how does that benefit Kuzma in-game?
Professional basketball, especially under the bright lights of Staples Center, is a stressful sport that can breed distracted thinking and anxiety in players.
“What if I miss this shot?”
“Damn, hope I don’t get pulled right now”
“Why won’t LeBron give me a high-five?”
When stress goes past a certain threshold, it essentially hijacks the brain and reduces you to your base habits and “survival” reactions.
In addition, Kuzma constantly has to read the game and make quick-decisions based on his indicators. Even the simplest of pick-and-roll defensive possessions can involve multiple indicators and decisions, with each stemming into multiple others.
Mindfulness has consistently been shown to reduce stress and keep distracted thoughts at bay while improving clarity, decision-making, and focus. It’s a win-win for any player.
Further, if Kuzma’s able to constantly keep himself locked in the moment and focused, there’s the possibility of him entering the “flow state” aka the zone.
Have you ever been doing something — whether it’s playing a sport or watching a game or reading, etc. — and you were completely enthralled by it, losing all sense of time, space, or worry about anything else? You’re not thinking, you’re just doing, completely at one with the activity? That’s “the zone” or “flow state,” a time when you’re just flowing seamlessly with what’s in front of you and not paying attention to anything else.
Remember this famous moment with Kobe and Chris Rock:
Yeh, that’s the zone.
Meditation has been linked to increasing that flow state and it results in a state of hyper-focused play and performance, which can help take Kuzma to that next level.
All in all, Kuzma is using meditation to prime himself for the game by getting into a state of focused attention that decreases external worry or stress, while improving his decision-making and reading of the game, potentially leading to a state of flow and being “in the zone.”
If you want to learn more about mindfulness and it’s applied practical applications along with the science behind it, I highly recommend checking out UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC) — I’m training there myself.
Who knows? If meditation keeps helping Kuzma at this rate, maybe he’ll even stop by to lead a session.
Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll.