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Michigan Quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s Pregame Meditation Routine Helped Lead The Wolverines To Victory. Here’s How It Works

Fortune Well January 14, 2024


Michigan Quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s Pregame Meditation Routine Helped Lead The Wolverines To Victory. Here’s How It Works

Three hours before the Michigan Wolverines took on the Washington Huskies in the College Football National Championship game Monday, you may have seen starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy sitting on the field with his back to the goal post—legs crisscrossed, shoes off, number-nine hood up, and eyes closed. 

McCarthy has meditated for about 10 minutes before every Michigan game, in addition to between 30 to 40 minutes each day in the morning, according to MLive. He also relies on Bob Marley tunes to pregame. 

“I meditate before the game just to really get my mindset into that calmness, that emptiness where I can allow things to happen and I can react from a higher perspective instead of reacting out of just straight impulse,” McCarthy previously said about his routine meditation practice. The 20-year-old, named an all-time best QB in the Wolverines’ history by head coach Jim Harbaugh, brought the team to a victory finish for the first time since 1997. 

McCarthy turned to the practice in high school during senior year at IMG Academy boarding school in Florida when he began feeling depressed. 

“I just kept stemming further and further away from myself and my true nature, and I feel like I was in a deep rut for about a month or two and I was like, something has got to change. This is not who I am,” McCarthy said in a press conference about how he began meditation. “I started looking up different practices to help improve mental health, and meditation was the first one that kept popping up. I just gave it a try, and then the rest was history.” 

As countless local and national outlets have captured, it’s not a common sight to see a team’s star quarterback intensely homed in on something other than the football during warmups. However, there must be some magic to McCarthy’s meditation routine, which he credits to centering him and preparing him for success. 

“I was always studying all these athletes, studying their mindsets, trying to adopt them in every way to forge the ultimate mindset as a competitor,” McCarthy previously said about finding novel ways to rise to the occasion and prioritize his mental health. 

What are the benefits of meditation? 

Mental health experts and scientists alike tout meditation to help calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Think of it as taking a small chunk of time to breathe and be aware, letting passing thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky or a train car on its way to the next stop.

Meditation can help people with emotional regulation and garnering a deeper perspective. Taking time to breathe slowly and limit distractions can lower the heart rate and instill a sense of calm. Especially under pressure, meditation is key to getting in the zone, or what McCarthy calls his “tune-up” time. 

“You’re teaching yourself to be nonjudgmentally aware of the present moment,” Elizabeth Seng, an associate professor of psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University, previously told Fortune. “We want them to be more focused on what’s going on right now than regretting what happened in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future.” 

While it’s easy to forgo mental fitness routines in the heat of the moment, McCarthy’s dedicated time demonstrates how the practice serves a larger purpose beyond those 10 focused minutes—perhaps, helping lead him to an undefeated college football season. It’s also why athletic teams invest more in mental health coaches and teaching the psychology of competition, which draws more attention to the mental strength needed to come out on top.

“I want to promote the practice to the rest of the world. I want to be able to have kids who look up to me, see that and be like, ‘Hey let me try this out,’ and see it for themselves,” McCarthy said in a Michigan Football team video.

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