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CHKD's Mindfulness Program helps athletes cope with stress

Man resting in locker room after training
Posted at 2:52 PM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 11:36:42-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Seventeen-year-old Elijah Munden started playing sports when he was 3 years old.

"My whole life I have played football," said Munden. "I also play basketball, soccer; I have done gymnastics and wrestling."

He is a standout football star currently at Kempsville High in Virginia Beach.

"Everyone is watching you. You do one thing, and all eyes are on you," he said, referring to playing on the football field.

While he only plays in front of a few hundreds fans, the story surrounding Olympic gymnast Simone Biles pulling out last week from four individual finals in Tokyo is something to which he can relate.

"It is a different feeling you get," he said. "Sometimes it's exciting; sometimes it's nerve-wracking."

After a torn ACL last year, Munden enrolled in the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters' Mindfulness Program along with a rehabilitation program.

He calls it a mental lifesaver on and off the field.

"Learning as an athlete how to deal with that anxiety in the moment and to cope with depression was really good," he said.

Dr. Joel Brenner with CHKD heads up that program. He says mindfulness is a practice to control your thoughts and not have them control you.

"Young athletes are human, and they have the same stressors as non-athletes," said Brenner.

Brenner teaches young athletes breathing techniques, light and imagery therapy and positive self talk as part of the program.

"Usually if someone tells us 10 things - nine are positive and one is negative - you always latch on to the negative," he said.

He says stressors can come from inside the athlete or externally from parents, coaches or even social media.

"We see this all the time. The Olympics just brought it to the forefront," he said.

Brenner says mindfulness practices should be integrated into daily activities, not just in sports.