All eyes will be on the top-ranked U.S. Women’s National Team, who will be defending their FIFA World Cup title in France this summer.
As pressure mounts, players and coaches want to ensure that the American soccer team maintains its position as one of the most successful teams on the planet. A new partnership illustrates that maintaining the top spot and being on the cutting edge of performance will be through a new focus on mental health.
Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer announced Thursday a three-year partnership with a leading meditation and mindfulness app, Headspace.
MLS Vice President of Player Engagement Dr. Jamil Northcutt told Fox News the partnership is about better serving the holistic needs of players and coaches.
“Meditation and mindfulness are one of many techniques to improve resiliency, mental grit and the ability to focus – all qualities athletes need on the field, but key characteristics of successful professionals off the field,” Northcutt said. “Total wellness will help players during their MLS experience and beyond.”
According to multiple studies, the use of the Headspace app has been shown to have favorable outcomes of interventions. Some of those outcomes include reduced stress, improved focus, and decreased aggression.
Lindsay Shaffer, the Head of Sports and Fitness at Headspace, told Fox News how mindfulness can help humans cope with anxiety.
"Research shows that meditation can physically change the structure of the brain, increasing the thickness of the gray matter of the prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain responsible for focus - and decreasing the size of the amygdala - which decreases our response to stress and fear,” Shaffer said.
James Bunce is the Director of High Performance for U.S. Soccer and told Fox News that teams go to great lengths to focus on their athletes’ physical performance, but that they often neglect the one thing that underlies every action a player makes: his or her mind.
“In the performance world for a long time, people have concentrated on the neck-below, on making people stronger, faster, and having more endurance, but people often forget that everything happens from the neck up,” Bunce said. “It all starts with the mind and how we make decisions, and the decisions we make, impact the neck-below.”
Professional soccer players are on the same page as Bunce when it comes to mental health and are supportive of the holistic approach toward health.
“Having played competitive soccer since a very young age, I have experienced the highs and lows that are part of being a professional athlete,” New York City FC defender Maxime Chanot said. “Having access to something that will train my mind like I train my body will help me and my teammates on and off the pitch. It is great that NYCFC and MLS are looking for new resources to help improve players’ health and wellness.”
MLS All-Star Ilie Sanchez of Sporting Kansas City echoed Chanot.
“The new Headspace app will be an extremely helpful resource that helps players sharpen their minds so that they can win the mental game and achieve overall wellness,” Sanchez told Fox News. “Through increased mindfulness and meditation that comes with Headspace, players will be better positioned to succeed both on and off the field.”
As the U.S. Women’s National Teams prepares to compete on one of the world’s biggest stages, Bunce is confident the women will “crush” it.
“Our women crush it across the board and are superb,” he said. “We are really confident that we’re going to have a great summer.”
For more on the Headspace partnership and on the FIFA World Cup watch James Bunce’s full interview above.