Get in the ZONE for Peak Athletic Performance
We often hear about athletes getting in the zone, but have you ever thought about what that means? Or if the zone really actually exists? Sport psychologists have studied human performance and determined that yes, an optimal arousal zone (commonly known as “the zone”) is a perfectly balanced mind-body state that athletes can achieve allowing them to play with great confidence, laser focus, and incredible motivation — the question therefore isn’t around the existence of the zone, but instead how athletes can enter this state?
Athletes will often describe the zone as being a place where everything is in synchrony and movements are effortless; body movements seem to flow and time stands still. Athletic success is also at a peak level, and confidence crushes any negative anxiety that might ordinarily get in the way of success. It is when athletes feel unstoppable that they engage in positive self-talk, quickly move past any on-field mistakes, and take calculated risks that they might otherwise be afraid of taking.
While getting in the zone isn’t something that usually happens passively, there are things athletes (even young athletes) can do to help reach this state on a consistent basis:
- Look back at great past performances. One of the easiest things an athlete can do to help get in the zone is to look back at previous practices and games where the athlete felt his best – why did this occur? It is important to note things that happened beforehand that might have helped create the zone mind state, especially things in the pre-game routine like the selection of music listened to or the mental rehearsal routine that might have included things like imagery, deep breathing, or positive self-talk. By replicating these behaviors the odds increase that future zone-like performance will occur.
- Keep a running journal and notice trends. When athletes keep track of their success in a journal, trends often emerge that can prove to be quite useful for the future. For example, over the course of a couple months an athlete might notice that she plays her best when she eats a certain pre-game meal on game days, or remembers to use deep breathing before and during a game. These small discoveries can lead to big gains only if they are identified and replicated in the future.
- Set and achieve goals. By writing out goals and following the progress toward them only then can an athlete truly see their athletic abilities grow and develop. In most cases when this occurs, it only helps when it comes to having the confidence on-field necessary to get in the zone and play at a peak level.
- Develop mental toughness just as you would the physical and technical aspects of athletic development. Today’s successful athletes know about important sport psychology tools including anxiety-reducing techniques, imagery, positive self-talk, cue word utilization, and resiliency strategies. When athletes learn about these skills and gain a better understanding of the ways in which they can temper anxiety while increasing confidence, they can then play freely and create the optimal mind-body synchrony needed to make perfect sport movements.
While there is no one way for athletes to get in the zone, the good news is that there really is a “zone,” and there are things athletes can do to help in the pursuit of playing in the zone. With determination, responsibility, and patience most athletes can learn about the unique things that allow them to play their best, then find ways to replicate those performances in the future that will allow them to reach their full athletic potential.
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athlete, Coaching, confidence, focus, imagery, motivation, psychology, resileincy, sport, success, zone