Application of Mindfulness Training Program to Chinese Athletes

The Education University of Hong Kong
Department of Health and Physical Education (HPE)

The current project aims to help athletes improve their performance in training and competition through a 7-week mindfulness training program, namely, the MAIC (Mindfulness-Acceptance-Insight-Commitment). Based on the approach of MAC (Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment; Gardner & Moore, 2007), the MAIC was developed by incorporating the concepts in the indigenous Adversity Coping Framework (Si, 2006) as well as the “insight” from Zen Buddhism, which is deemed more appropriate to athletes under the Chinese culture (Si, Zhang, Su, & Zhang, 2014). Overall, five key elements are included in the MAIC: (1) Mindfulness, which refers to a pure experience of the physical and psychological feelings in the present moment, is to be aware of the experience on purpose, in the present and non-judgemental; (2) Decentering, which refers to people distance themselves from their thoughts and feelings, view thoughts and feelings as temporary objects in the mind, rather than treat them as reality or even make a reaction. As such, athletes are trained to focus attention on the tasks, changing the state from self-focus to task-focus; (3) Acceptance, which is described as accepting the adversities as well as negative inner experiences with an open attitude, and coexisting with those negative experiences; (4) Value and insight. Value refers to athletes’ overall evaluation and views towards the meaning and importance of different issues. Insight refers to athletes’ new awareness and new finding, including the new awareness of the meaning of life and values. For Chinese athletes, insight is revealed through the harmony between social values and individual values; (5) Commitment, which is described as persistently committing to the behaviors that are consistent with athletes’ values and goals. The MAIC can help athletes put their attention on the performance through cultivating the capabilities of paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of non-judgment and non-reaction as well as coexisting with adversities and negative experiences. The athletes’ performance can be improved through persistent behavioral involvement that is in line with athletes’ values, with the help of clarifying athletes’ values as well as coordinating the discrepancy between individual oriented values and social oriented values. In 2012 and 2013, Researchers applied the MAIC program to Chinese provincial Chinese-style boxing athletes, Wushu athletes, and synchronized swimming athletes using a multi-baseline single-case design to examine the effectiveness of MAIC on athletes’ mindfulness abilities, acceptance abilities as well as sport performance. The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006) and the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II (AAQ-II; Bond et al., 2011) were measured and the visual inspection and the calculation of effect size were adopted. Results showed that: the mindfulness and acceptance levels of athletes were improved; the performance in training and competition further corroborated the effectiveness of the mindfulness interventions. Further, the competition results reflected that the competitive performances of athletes were enhanced.

Situations where this practice can be used: 
The MAIC can be applied to athletic population. The functions of mindfulness training on athletes are as follows: improving mood, facilitating flow experience, improving the acceptance of adversities and negative experiences, enhancing the execution levels towards goals, and enhancing the levels of sport performance.

Over the past 30 years, athletes’ mental training was dominated by the Psychological Skill Training (PST) that was based on the second wave of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The basic assumption of the PST is the ideal performance state can be achieved through controlling the internal psychological process, reducing the negative internal experiences. However, this training paradigm has not received adequate support from applied practice (Gardner & Moore, 2004). In recent years, the mindfulness-based psychological approach was received more and more attention, such as the Mindfulness- Acceptance-Commitment (MAC; Gardner & Moore, 2007). In contrast to the PST, rather than requiring athletes to control the internal experiences, the MAC approach emphasizes to accept the internal experiences nonjudgmentally, allowing the existence of negative thinking and emotions, and at the same time paying attention to the stimulus that is related to performance tasks. However, when applying it to Chinese athletes in applied practice, it was found that the cultural factors should be taken into consideration. For example, the personal values of Chinese athletes are influenced by the collective values (e.g., winning honor for the country and prioritizing collective interests). Under the Whole-Nation System, conflict might exist between the athletes’ personal values and authoritative and social values (Chung, Si, & Zhang, 2013). As such, the MAIC was developed based on MAC, by incorporating the indigenous Adversity Coping Framework, the insight from Zen Buddhism, as well as the social oriented values, which is more appropriate to athletes under the context of Chinese culture (Si, Zhang, Su, & Zhang, 2014).


1. To improve the mindfulness levels, including the five facets of observing, non-judging, non-reacting, describing and awareness.

2. To enhance the acceptance levels, namely, increasing the acceptance of negative internal experiences, decreasing the tendency of experiential avoidance.

3. Based on the enhancement of the mindfulness levels and acceptance levels through the MAIC intervention, to improve the sport performance.


Based on the MAC program, Si and colleagues incorporated the concepts from Chinese culture, such as the insight, into their MAIC program, and developed the Mindfulness Training Manual for Chinese Athletes (Si, Zhang, Su, Zhang, Jiang, & Li, 2014) as the guide for MAIC program. The manual includes seven sessions with each session introducing an independent topic, lasting from 75 to 90 minutes.

1. The first week, introduce the MAIC and provide psychoeducation of the MAIC. Introduce the fundamental rationale of the mindfulness training; present the key points of mindfulness training; introduce the schedule of mindfulness training; learn the practice of poise.

2. The second week, introduce and practice mindfulness. Introduce the definition of mindfulness to athletes; analyze the relationship between mindfulness and sport performance; introduce the practice of mindful breathing, mindfulness meditation, mindful walking, mindful fruit eating, mindful water drinking.

3. The third week, introduce and practice decentering. Introduce the concept of attachment; introduce the concept of decentering; introduce the concept of cognitive fusion and cognitive defusion to athletes and discussion; introduce the self-oriented attention and task-oriented attention to athletes; conduct the practice of attention and living in the present moment; practice summarization and subtraction; introduce the mindfulness practice of washing dishes.

4. The fourth week, introduce and practice acceptance. Strengthen athletes’ understanding of experiential avoidance and experiential acceptance; emphasize the importance of and practice the experiential acceptance; work with athletes to analyze and specify the relationship between experiential avoidance and experiential acceptance with sport performance, lead athletes to analyze the relationship between decentering and acceptance; synthesize mindfulness, decentering and acceptance; introduce the practice of co-existing; the practice of mindful yoga.

5. The fifth week, introduce value and insight. Introduce the concept of value to athletes; introduce the Adversity Coping Framework, introduce the concept of mindfulness and insight, clarify the relationship between value and insight; introduce the mindful behavioral practice.

6. The sixth week, introduce commitment. Differentiate the motivational and behavioral commitment; identify the concrete behaviors that can lead to behavioral performance; introduce the relationship between commitment and value; help athletes understand the concept of poise, link the concepts of concentration, commitment and mindfulness; extend the concept of mindfulness to daily training.

7. The seventh week, synthesize and strengthen all the practices. Strengthen the well-learned skills (mindfulness, acceptance and commitment). With these skills, practices and behaviors, athletes can still improve and maintain the levels of their sport performance; prepare the end of the MAIC by emphasizing life-long learning of these skills and practices; establish a concrete plan to conduct and monitor the

Outcomes worth noting: 

The effectiveness of MAIC in applied practice has been supported, including: Bu (2013) applied it to the mental training of three provincial Chinese-style boxing athletes; Zhang (2013) applied it to the mental training of four provincial Wushu athletes; Feng (2014) applied it to the psychological intervention of six provincial synchronized swimming athletes. In above studies, the multiple-baseline single-case design was adopted, and the visual inspection and the calculation of effect size (classified as three levels: weak, moderate, and strong) were adopted for analysis. Positive effects were found on the levels of mindfulness, acceptance, and training performance. Specifically:

1. Mindfulness.
After the MAIC intervention, the mindfulness levels of three Chinese-style boxing athletes were improved in a moderate degree, and lasted for a long time after the intervention; the mindfulness levels of two of four Wushu athletes were improved in a moderate degree while the levels of the other two were improved significantly; the mindfulness levels of five of six synchronized swimming athletes were improved significantly, with one athlete in a moderate degree, and for all these six athletes the effects lasted after the intervention.

2. Acceptance.
After the MAIC intervention, the acceptance levels of athletes were improved in different degrees. The acceptance levels of two of the three Chinese-style boxing athletes were improved in a moderate degree, with one athlete showed weak improvement, and for all three athletes the effects lasted after the intervention; the acceptance levels of three of those four Wushu athletes were improved significantly, while one athlete in a moderate degree; the acceptance levels of five of six synchronized swimming athletes were improved in a moderate degree, with the effect of one athlete weak, and for all six athletes the effects lasted after the intervention.

3. Training performance.
After the MAIC intervention, the training performance of athletes was improved generally. The training indicators and overall training performance of three Chinese-style boxing athletes and four Wushu athletes were improved in a variety of degree;
With regard to the six synchronized swimming athletes, the training performance (including three aspects of the movement difficulty, movement quality, and team cooperation) of four athletes was improved in a moderate degree, with one significantly improved. And a moderate degree of intervention effects on four athletes lasted after the intervention.

4. Competition performance.
After the MAIC intervention, the competition performance of athletes was improved in a variety of degree. In the subsequent 2012 National Championship, three Chinese-style boxing athletes entered the final 16 in which one kept seed No. 7 and two others improved significantly (both of them could not make it to the final 16 in the 2011 National Championship); four Wushu athletes reduced their mistakes in competition significantly, with three athletes zero mistakes and one athlete had one mistake (in 2011 National Championship, 2 athletes had two mistakes and the other two athletes had one mistake); the provincial team which the six synchronized swimming athletes represent won the golden medal in both the qualifying match and the finals.

5. Social validation.
The social validity was examined via questionnaire survey and interview. In general, both athletes and coaches acknowledged the format, method and effect of the MAIC intervention across all these three sports.

Potential benefits to student population

Traditionally, mindfulness-based training has been applied to the clinical and general populations, such as the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 1990), the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002), the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT; Linehan, 1993) and the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). The MAIC has many similarities with those training program and it might be applied to student populations beyond athletes’ mental training. For example, Deng (2006) revealed that mindfulness training can help improve the mental health of college students by increasing the positive moods, and decreasing the depressive and anxiety moods. The understanding and practicing relevant concepts in MAIC, such as mindfulness, value, insight, acceptance and commitment, can provide athletes a new perspective to cope with the adversity and pressure in life and academic career and sustain a positive state of mind.

Further suggestions: 

As a newly developed sport-specific mental training program for Chinese athletes, the MAIC might be improved from the following two aspects. On one hand, a more in-depth investigation of the similarity and difference between the MAIC and MAC could be conducted, for example, a more concrete definition, and further investigation from the angle of Chinese culture. On the other hand, a further investigation of the intervention effect of the MAIC could be conducted, for example, by adopting a more strict experimental design using the randomized control trial.


I think this is a creative programme to enhance the athletes performance. I think it can apply in every athlete in the world, not only chinese athletes.

Good idea, I think mindfulness can enhance their performance, I think this programme can not only promote to athlete.

As I am a athlete, I am sure that sport performance depends on sports technique, physical level and psychological level for professional athletes. I like this mindfulness training workshop. It is because in high level competition every athlete must have a challenge in mental. It would be cause mistake during competition because of stress. I also have mindfulness training from my psychoanalyst so I know this kind of mental training can make athlete improve the performance, especially can make athlete more concentrate and relax on competition. It can reduce mistake and enhance sport performance.

I think this project is excellent. Hong Kong athletes nowadays often have negative emotions which may adversely affect their performance in competitions. Although there are psychologists who may provide counseling to athletes, I think this is still not enough.
After reading your project, I strongly believe that your plan is feasible and should help athletes to a large extent. Your project is very comprehensive since it has included a lot of research and information from experts, both locally and internationally. I think this research and study can be applied to Hong Kong athletes and they will gain the most benefits.

This is a creative idea and I know this is not easy to do. I think the group have done a lot of research on sports mindfulness as I am an elite athletes, I believe
The mindfulness is one of the important factors to win the competition so I need to learn how to maintain a good mindfulness. But I suggest this group include a video so that we can understand your idea more easily.

i am deeply interested in this idea. as i am also a athlete. although i am not the elite athlete, i also suffered form pressure. so, if this idea is work, can improve our psychological level. need to share to whole Hong Kong athlete. it may increasing our athlete's quality.

Mindfulness which is a really good life skill it helps in many different way. For personal, mindfulness had been really improved my sports performance. No matter in training or racing.
It helps release pressure, refocus, enjoy the process etc....I totally agree about this article. I had learned mindfulness from a very experienced sports psychologist in Hong Kong Sports Institute for almost five years. I still remember when she first teaching me mindfulness, she start with a raisin.
She asked me to take three deep breath on the stomach before I start eating the raisin and focus on every step when I'm having the raisin. After that, she needs me to apply mindfulness on brush teeth, shower, walking and some daily life stuff. When I get used to it slowly, I found out everything slow down and I can really feel the taste of my life in every moments.

I think mindfulness training program is an attractive idea, and as a athlete, i really want to give it a try. Being an athlete, mental training is really important to our performance in competitions or even training, so i keep consulting sports psychologist to improve my mental condition, the sports psychologist usually chats with me, like mentioned in the background above, he usually leads me to control the internal thinking and to reduce the negative internal experiences, like thinking more about my good performance instead of my bad performance. I am not saying the consultation i am receiving is bad, but i'd love to try on other new skills such as the MAC approach which is to accept instead of reject the negative experience, to see which one is more beneficial to my sports performance.

I think it is a great program and it isn't only use on the Chinese athletes. It can provide to all people especially parents. Nowadays. Patents are very stressful, they worry everything likes the supply of the infant formulas, the allocation of school places and so on. Therefore they create so many stressed. If they learn mindfulness, it makes them relax and decline to push their student and decrease the students stress level.

in Hong Kong sport's player different of other country sports' player, Hong Kong sports' player psychological quality is very bad. so they also have not get great achievement in competition. so I think it is a great program to focus on Hong Kong's sport player. but I think mindfulness training program are not famous on Hong Kong. so I think they need to more promote about mindfulness training program to make some Hong Kong sports association to know what is it and know about their importance. So I think promote these is the most important what they need to do.



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