Back to Blog

Meditation and Sport Performance: The Brain Always Wins

This week our guest writer will be Dr. John Sullivan, an elite level Clinical Sport Psychologist and Sport Scientist with over 20 years of clinical and scholarly experience. He has worked with teams in the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League and Premier League soccer / football coordinating clinical care and sport science. He is also an expert consultant for the military and law enforcement in regards to both welfare and performance. Dr. Sullivan has just recently released a book, website and podcast titled: The Brain Always Wins where he discusses topics related to meditation and athletic performance including the use of Muse to support and improve brain health. Some episodes of his podcast that relate to Muse include: Brain vs. Mind & Cognitive Training  and Emotions Run the Show in Sport and Life

Meditation and Sport Performance:  The Brain Always Wins

The discussion of meditation or mindfulness within sport is not novel, as there has been more written about this ancient practice in the last five years since transcendental meditation become popular in the 1960s and 1970s. What has become popular again brings with it a new in-depth scientific exploration (Cahn & Polich, 2009).  As a sport scientist and clinical sport psychologist, it is important to me that the science behind meditation matters, and I am always looking to protect a performer’s health and performance. Without protecting health and, more specifically, brain health long-term athletic development is significantly incomplete.

Chris Parker and I discuss in the book The Brain Always Wins that meditation has a long history and can easily be thought of as “wisdom of the village.” Modern-day researchers have brought wisdom from centuries ago to a place where we can objectively see the impact on brain health and performance.


The Brain Always Wins by Dr. John Sullivan

Muse technology has made the process of meditation practice more scientific, tangible and, in turn, approachable.


In The Brain Always Wins we discuss Muse, a meditation technology which uses the validated science of real-time electroencephalogram (EEG) technology which has delivered an opportunity to support and improve the brain health and performance in the following areas:

  • Increased energy management (Azam et al., 2016; Creswell, 2016; Tsai et al., 2014)
  • Cellular growth – brain growth (Esch, 2014; Fox et al., 2014; Kang et al., 2015; Luders et al., 2016; McEwen, 2016; Shaffer, 2016)
  • Brain capacity/function
    • Emotional regulation (Jazaieri et al., 2014; Seppälä et al., 2014; Teper et al., 2013)
    • Attention and decision making (Atchley et al., 2016; Colzato et al., 2015; Esch, 2014; Jo et al., 2016; Larson, 2013;
    • Stress Management/Autonomic Nervous System flexibility (Jerath et al., 2014; Kim et al., 2016; Ravinder et al., 2014; Subramanya & Telles, 2015)
  • Pain management (Azam et al., 2016; Esch et al., 2016)
  • Sport performance (Baltzell et al. 2014; Ford et al., 2016; Röthlin et al., 2016; Scott & Schutte, 2016)
  • Resilience and readiness (Alderman et al., 2016; Carter & Carter, 2016; Creswell & Lindsay, 2014; Esch, 2014)
  • Immune function (Carter & Carter, 2016; Fan et al., 2014)

Muse technology has made the process of meditation practice more scientific, tangible and, in turn, approachable. The information gained and ‘gamified’ allows the end user and sport scientist to guide and measure not only improvement but protection of brain health. Thus, the contemplative traditions of meditation aiming to bring the practitioner closer to self-actualization and enlightenment can do so – and that fits nicely with the goals of the sport environment which are based in health and performance, and which are also contemporary conceptualizations of advancing human potential.

In addition, we elaborate on the latest sciences in The Brain Always Wins – from applied brain sciences related to human performance and a training process, to discussions regarding maintenance of health and optimal performance that puts the brain first.

The brain is the ultimate frontier within sport performance; yet, in sport, change is often met with resistance due to its traditions. The brain sciences (re: psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science) have for decades now been answering the question of why the brain matters in sport – and this has been done with evidence rather than conjecture. However, most of us are at a disadvantage as we learn very little about the brain and its impact on our health and performance, even though it plays a part in every process in our lives.

Dr. John Sullivan at work

Our mission in writing The Brain Always Wins was to bridge the knowledge gap that most of us have with regard to brain health and performance, and to also highlight a training process and tools like Muse that contribute to health and optimal performance. Additionally, it was to support our military veterans who by their dedicated service often incur reduced aspects of brain health – in particular, we have learned a great deal from these individuals and hope to give back to them through efforts such as this book.

About the author

Dr. John Sullivan is a Sport Scientist and Clinical Sport Psychologist with over twenty years of clinical and scholarly experience.

He currently holds appointments within the National Football League (NFL), the English Premier League (EPL), the NCAA (Providence College, University of Rhode Island, Brown University), and the Military in the U.S.

Dr. Sullivan is also a visiting scholar and applied sport scientist at the Queensland Academy of Sport and Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

He is a frequent contributor writing on sport science and sports medicine and his latest efforts have focused on a series of books which distills the latest performance psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience, related to optimal brain performance and health entitled The Brain Always Wins.


Share Button