Mental Conditioning For Athletes

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Just Where is The Zone and What is It?

When we start talking about Mental Conditioning Training for athletes, we invariably get onto the topic of peak performance. This is where we begin hearing the term “In The Zone” being bandied about by players, coaches and sportscasters. Jordon sure was in The Zone tonight. Did you see Johnson, she was so focused - must have been in The Zone. My game was perfect because I was so in The Zone.

Most of us think we know what it is but perhaps not everyone has experienced it in the same way. Sometimes our execution of all the steps in our sport are perfect and we achieve the scores we seek, but does this mean we are in the The Zone? No.

Bob Reese, an athletic trainer in the NFL for 25 years and now a peak performance consultant says that when you are playing, if you begin to think you are in The Zone, then you are actually out of The Zone. You don’t recognize it when you are in it because you are so highly focused on what you are doing that you have no intruding thoughts or egoism about being there.

Retired Boston Celtic star, Bill Russell, says that when you are there everything goes so perfectly that you slip into a gear that you didn’t even know was there.

Race car driver Anton Senna stated, “I felt as though I was driving in a tunnel. I had reached such a high level of concentration that it was as if the car and I had become one.”

A person only has to look at Tiger Woods on the golf course to know that he is usually playing in The Zone.

The definition for what The Zone is can be somewhat elusive as it may be different based on an individuals conscious experience of their reality. In a paper by Michelle Pain and Janet Young of Morash University they say:

It is a magical and special place where performance is exceptional and consistent, automatic and flowing. An athlete is able to ignore all the pressures and let his or her body deliver the performance that has been learned so well. Competition is fun and exciting. (Murphy, 1996, p.4)

I also like Sport Psychology Consultant Karlene Sugarman’s list of Characteristics of being In The Zone:

1. Relaxed

2. Confident

3. Completely focused

4. Effortless

5. Automatic

6. Fun

7. In Control

She goes on to say that being in The Zone usually occurs by chance. However, by implementing mental training skills an athlete can increase their chances of entering the state on a more consistent basis. Other believe that it can be brought on at will with proper mental training.

The movie The Legend of Bagger Vance has a wonderful series of scenes where Will Smith’s character, Bagger, tells Matt Damon’s character, Junuh, about what it’s like to focus to the point that all outside distraction is eliminated. The camera narrows in on Damon’s grip (golf) and his sightline down the fairway as all the noises of the crowd fade into the background. It’s a great visual of an athlete as they move into what can only be described as The Zone.

To learn more about functioning as an in The Zone player, athletes at all levels of competition are turning to mental skills training. They are willing to spend more time working with the six inches of the body that is located between the ears and give their minds as much attention and training as they do their physical practice. It is said that winning athletes know that success in the game is 80% mental and only 20% physical.

There are a wide variety of mental skills techniques that are utilized to help athletes access this special place that many describe as calm and peaceful with an incredible sense of self-confidence and control. Skills include the use of power visualization in addition to learning to control physical and emotional energy and negative self-talk. Additionally, learning self-hypnosis such as Tiger Woods did from his trainer Jay Brunza assists an athlete to enter The Zone at will.

So, where is The Zone? It’s in each and every athlete. It is the field of potentiality that athletes can learn to access and implement as part of their peak performance training.