Friday, March 8, 2019

Book Review: A Still Quiet Place for Athletes

A Still Quiet Place for Athletes: Mindfulness Skills for Achieving Peak Performance & Finding Flow in Sports & Life, by Amy Saltzman, MD.

Amy Saltzman knows a thing or two about psychology and athletes. She's an internal medicine-trained MD who has oodles of experience working with kids, teens, and adults on mindfulness skills, runs a holistic medicine & mindfulness coaching practice, and former competitive cyclist, now recreational cyclist-runner-yogi-snowboarder. I've followed her doings online for years, and was stoked to read her book when it came out last year (excuse the somewhat belated review, because, you know, life...)

Who This Book Is For: arguably, any athlete. That's probably not helpful though. So here is who I would recommend this book *most* for:

(1) Those who are bad at mindfulness at baseline. My own research shows that individuals who score on the low end of dispositional mindfulness scales ("trait" mindfulness) show the largest functional and structural brain changes after mindfulness training. Need to test yourself? You can score yourself on the Mindful Attention & Awareness Scale here. It makes sense that a book that targets mindfulness skills for peak athletic performance is going to be the most helpful for athletes who are starting out with low mindfulness skills.

(2) Younger athletes.
First, because developing these mental skills at a young age will be hugely beneficial (particularly in our current climate of constant distraction). Second, because all of the skills, strategies, and techniques presented in Saltzman's book are accompanied by workbook exercises. And while I am also of the opinion that this is HIGHLY useful for adult as well (and probably most useful for those who are most uncomfortable with it - see #1), it will probably feel natural for athletes in middle school, high school, and college who are already immersed in a learning environment.

(3) Coaches. Mental training is the next frontier. If you want to help your athletes - of any age, at any level - get to the next level, or if you have an athlete who is being held back by anxiety, burnout, or self-defeating patterns, this book will help you work with them.

The Workbook Structure: As mentioned above, this is a workbook, from start to finish. With a lot of good information in between. I'll admit, I was skeptical. It made me feel a little silly to fill some of these things out. Particularly the "feelings bubble" that comes early on. But then I thought about feeling silly. I've done the "raisin exercise" (one of the first MBSR exercises) umpteen times in lectures, on my own, and in the undergrad Science of Stress course I teach - and I still cannot get through it without at least smirking, if not outright snort-giggling. But it works. Every time. Sometimes you have to feel uncomfortable or silly to really understand what you are trying to achieve - in this case, identifying mental and physical sensations and how they are affecting performance.

The workbook was also handy for providing an overarching structure to work through - if you're an active learner, this will be a much more useful text for you than sitting down and simply reading a book about mindfulness for athletes. It's practical, and even if not 100% of it is not applicable to you (e.g., team sports vs individual sport concepts), there is almost guaranteed to be something in this book that will help you.

What It'll Teach You to Do: Here's a rough outline of what you can expect to get out of this book.

Part 1: "The Fundamentals: Mindfulness"
This is the nuts and bolts. If you're already familiar with the components of mindfulness training, it's still worth working through this section for the associated exercises. You'll gain practice in watching your thoughts, identifying your emotions and "befriending" them, and (if you learn one thing, and one thing only) responding rather than reacting.

Part 2: "Advanced Skills: Integration"
If you've worked through Part 1, your basic mindfulness skills are now in place, and you can move on to applying and practicing skills specific to peak performance & flow. Saltzman touches in this section upon one of my favorite applications of mindfulness in sports - learning to separate your emotions from physical and mental pain. How will you face challenges? Deal with mistakes, manage self-esteem, and practice self-compassion? Create "habits of excellence"?

Part 3: "Skills for Coaches and Parents"
This is the shortest section of the book and will not be relevant to everyone, but will be immensely valuable to the target audience. Saltzman begins by reflecting on her own coaching, and then addresses topics including creating culture, attending to individual athletes and teams, communication skills (responding vs reacting), and building connection.

You can read more about her book as well as online training and events at

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