What motorsports can teach us about mindfulness

What motorsports can teach us about mindfulness

Recently we announced that we will be supporting McKenzy Cresswell as he launches his F4 career at the age of 15. When learning to be a driver, there is a lot of preparation that goes into it. You need to make sure that your mind is trained, and mindfulness is a technique that is used by many drivers to make sure that their concentration is on form. 

In this interview, McKenzy shares insights on what it means to be an F4 driver and how mindfulness is an extremely important part of training.

Thanks for speaking to us McKenzy and congratulations on qualifying. Would you be able to explain why mindfulness is an important part of your training?

As a driver, mindfulness can be one of the most important parts of preparation. Knowing how to focus on the task at hand and function at your optimum, which is referred to as being in the present moment, can make a massive difference in performance during a race weekend. 

The ability to devote all of your concentration and effort towards the present moment is a key element in being a great racing driver. The act of mindfulness is training the mind to focus on one thing at a time and bringing your attention back to whatever that thing is, if and when the mind wanders.

What types of techniques do you use to make sure that you can optimise concentration?

There are several techniques for restoring focus, such as developing a habit of concentrating on your breathing. When you sense a distraction or anxiety, training yourself to pick up again on your breathing patterns naturally restores the mind’s effort towards the moment.

Another technique is to tense muscles in your upper body and focus on that tension. When the tension is released, it becomes easier to concentrate on what you were doing previously.

Mindfulness impacts racing in a variety of ways, but they all stem from the same thing: pressure. Motorsport is one of the most mentally demanding sports and knowing how to keep cool when under pressure is a vital skill for great racing drivers.

Why is it important for drivers to be able to handle pressure?

There are many different scenarios where you may feel pressure, but one of the most nerve-racking ones is when you are leading a race. Your ability to handle the pressure while leading can make or break a race and being able to keep a cool head and maintain the level of concentration needed to perform at your best is a key element of leading a race. The sight of other cars in your mirror can throw off even experienced drivers. 

A recent example of this was at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2019, Lewis Hamilton was catching Sebastian Vettel, who was on older tyres and had much less pace, and this added a lot of pressure onto Vettel. It was in the closing stages of the race, and the pressure was building for Vettel to perform. Hamilton was right behind him and going into Turn 4 the pressure was too much for Sebastian, and he went off onto the grass and threw away the victory. This example shows the importance of knowing how to focus on yourself, and not worry about things out of your control. 

Another aspect of a race weekend that requires ultimate concentration is qualifying. Qualifying is one of the most important parts of an event, and the pressure is on the driver to deliver and get the most out of the car over a single lap. That one lap can have a huge impact on your race because the further back you start, the easier it is for you to get caught up in an accident. This short burst of pressure can make a driver under or overdrive; essentially meaning either push too hard and make a mistake, or not push hard enough in fear of making a mistake. Finding the balance between these two is crucial in achieving a quick lap. 

What advice would you give to young people who are currently struggling in high-pressured situations or with procrastination?

Being in the present moment can benefit many situations. If you have made a mistake, the importance of knowing how to move on from that mistake and focus on what’s ahead cannot be overstated. A race, like daily life, rarely ever goes exactly to plan, and you need to be in the present moment when it doesn’t.

How do you use mindfulness to handle the difficult parts of racing, ie. not winning?

There are a lot of situations in motorsport where things won’t go your way; it’s inevitable. Knowing how to put past difficulties behind you and perform at your best without dwelling on why you aren’t winning can help you get back to the top. If things aren’t going your way, you need to bring your focus back to the task at hand, and mindfulness training can help you achieve that.

Is there any other advice, tips or a quote that you would like to share to help others?

Knowing how to stay fully focused on the task at hand is a skill everyone can benefit from. The mind wanders all the time, and you have to be able to recognize that. Being able to deliberately bring your attention back to your craft is an excellent way to be the best version of yourself. Overall, mindfulness is a great way to train the mind to deal with pressure. It helps you focus on the task at hand and improves concentration during stressful situations. 

“If the lion is the king of the jungle, how can he be the king of the jungle if he’s not the biggest? The elephant is probably the biggest. He can’t be the fastest because that’s the cheetah. He can’t be the smartest. So, he’s not the biggest, the fastest or the smartest. So how does a lion become the king of the jungle? His mentality. That’s the only difference of a lion and an elephant.” 

– Ray Lewis

Looking for more mindfulness and mental health advice? Check out some of our tips here.

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