The Mindful Athlete

The cover of the mindful athlete book

Amazon describes the book as..."Michael Jordan credits George Mumford with transforming his on-court leadership of the Bulls, helping Jordan lead the team to six NBA championships. Mumford also helped Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom and countless other NBA players turn around their games. A widely respected public speaker and coach, Mumford is sharing his own story and the strategies that have made these athletes into stars in The Mindful Athlete: The Secret to Pure Performance. His proven, gentle but groundbreaking mindfulness techniques can transform the performance of anyone with a goal, be they an Olympian, weekend warrior, executive, hacker, or artist.

When Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls to play baseball in 1993, the team was in crisis. Coach Phil Jackson, a long-time mindfulness practitioner, contacted Dr. Kabat-Zinn to find someone who could teach mindfulness techniques to the struggling team—someone who would have credibility and could speak the language of his players. Kabat-Zinn led Jackson to Mumford and their partnership began. Mumford has worked with Jackson and each of the eleven teams he coached to become NBA champions. His roster of champion clients has since blossomed way beyond basketball to include corporate executives, Olympians, and athletes in many different sports.

With a charismatic teaching style that combines techniques of engaged mindfulness with lessons from popular culture icons such as Yoda, Indiana Jones, and Bruce Lee, Mumford tells illuminating stories about his larger than life clients. His writing is down-to-earth and easy to understand and apply. The Mindful Athlete is an engrossing story and an invaluable resource for anyone looking to elevate their game, no matter what the pursuit, and includes a foreword by Phil Jackson.

"Self-consciousness is when you’re focused on how you’re doing instead of what you’re doing. We have to learn how to push and challenge ourselves, but not in an insensitive way. Honing your performance really comes down to being comfortable with being uncomfortable."—George Mumford"

Why We are Reading this Book

Sam recommended this book as a result of him listening to it based on the recommendation of a soccer coaching friend. Sam found the book amazing. So, much of it rung true to him that it really stuck with him. Additionally, Sam thought the book should have been titled "The Mindful Person and Athletic Excellence" because the book really applies to nearly everyone even in their every day tasks. Due to the wide range of experiences in this group and a lot of experience with youth and youth sports Sam was excited to share this book with the group and get their ideas. 

Sam's Goals for Reading the Book as a Group

  • Hear others' takes on what the book says
  • Discuss how this applies to youth development in sports
  • Explore what is missing in mental excellence in an activity or sport


George Mumford discusses a wide variety of cultural influences and influencers in the book. Below is some elaboration on some of those that he mentions.

Kung Fu, Cowboy and Archery

Mumford talks about the 1970s TV series Kung Fu and the idea of "oneness" in activity. This was one of my favorite shows as a kid. Loved it and the wisdom he shared during the episodes. In part I think this shaped the foundation for my interest in Buddhism. 

Zen and the Art of Archery

This was another influential book of my youth that Mumford cites in the book. In the story the author goes to Japan and learns the Zen art of archery. As part of this, I re-listened to the book with a particular focus of how this could be applied to teaching soccer and mindfulness to young athletes. The idea of mastery through deliberate repetition is powerful in this book and has a real appeal as a coach. With that said, there are few people, no less youth, who are willing to take the hours and hours of practices he puts in just to get the release of the bow right. Anyways, if you have the time this is a book well worth your time. 

book cover of zen and the art of archery


The Inner Game of Tennis

Mumford discusses the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" as being deeply influential on the modern thinking of excellence in mental performance. I was blessed to have a brilliant young athlete recommend to our soccer team that we read it. So, as a team of high school rec players we read the book and had a great, great discussion about mental performance in sports. Lots of great learning. The video below is a good 10 minute summary of the book. The book is short and once again absolutely worth reading or listening to. 

the cover of the inner game of tennis


George Mumford on YouTube

George Mumford is all over YouTube with hours of brilliant content. If you are not able to get through the book this is a great substitute for the book discussion. Even if you do read the book once or twice or twenty times it is a meaningful event to listen to him in person discuss the same things he addressed in the book. This video is about 30 minutes long.

Next Time You Make A Mistake Remember This | George Mumford on Impact Theory


 We will try and discuss this book towards the end of April or the beginning of May. 


Here are some potential discussion points. Please feel free to bring your own. We are not limited to these.

  1. What does mindfulness mean to you?
  2. How do you create mindfulness?
  3. How do you develop mindfulness in young athletes?
  4. To achieve athletic greatness, what other mental characteristics do you have to develop other than mindfulness?
  5. Is there an egotistical path to mental excellence (if Mumford is Yoda preaching the light side of the Force, is there an egotistical dark side path to mental excellence)?
  6. Is there a better metaphorical tool to use with kids of the 2 wolves?

Is There a Path to Mindfulness Through the Darkside?

Mumford follows a common path that mindfulness is best approached from developing a connection to all and that this will lead to a respect for all and a fundamental goodness of one's soul. I think there are many examples where this is true, but is it the only path. What a path to mindfulness through the dark side? A path driven to excellence by a motivation of the ego? In the example below Achilles is driven to be the greatest warrior of his time and possibly of all time by the motivation of glory. A glory driven by the individual ego and not excellence for the sake of excellence of excellence in pursuit of a greater good. 

The Discussion

Zoom Attendees: Mary Ann, Julie, Randy, Chet, Sam

We had another good discussion. We focused a lot on what it means to be in the zone and how different activities relate to the zone like mountain climbing and quilting.