There is plenty of research and experience to support the importance of active recovery in the training regimen for athletes. Yet, it is nearly always the most neglected piece of every athlete’s life. Oftentimes, it takes a pretty significant event or point of learning (like an injury) for athletes to understand just how important recovery is.
Sports require a lot of physical effort that causes exhaustion; physical and mental. And in the same way that we have to allow our bodies to recover after we have broken down muscle tissue, expended massive amounts of energy, and possibly caused injury, we also have to recover our minds. For every second we are under physical duress during sport, we are also experiencing some kind of mental duress; increased stress being the main component. So, it is our responsibility to recover our minds to alleviate this added stress that we have subjected ourselves to throughout the duration of our competition. Why? Because not doing so results in mental fatigue, fogginess, burnout, general stress, and more.
Furthermore, “Elite athletes are exposed to a unique range of risk factors (e.g. injury and overtraining, constant pressures to perform) that may potentially increase their vulnerability to mental ill-health” (2016, Küttel & Larson), which means that attending o the overall mental well being of athletes is essential. Mindfulness and meditation practices have been cited in research as being effective mental strategies for reducing mental fatigue (2021, Coimbra, Bevilacqua, Pereira, & Andrade, A.).
Yet, very few athletes participate on teams where programs such as these are readily available (like PT or rehab services) thus, it becomes the responsibility of the athlete to find a way that works for them. This has resulted in a huge underutilization of mental recovery within the professional athlete community.
At the end of the day, if you want to perform at your peak capacity as an athlete, you have to care for both your body and mind; not either-or.