Sports Psychology: Tap the Power of the Zone for Peak Performance

by Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.

All athletes love the magical, sought after state of mind known as the “zone.” This state of supreme focus helps athletes in all sports perform at their peak. Many athletes who want to reach their peak potential are always in search of secrets to hop into the *zone.* But the zone is really not that complicated or hard to achieve when the right mental game strategies are put into place.

It is difficult to enter a *zone* state every time you compete. No one is perfect, but you can learn the mental strategies that will help you get there more often!

What really is the zone? The zone is simply a mental state of total involvement in the present moment. I like the word *immersed* as it indicates you lose yourself (or your sense of self) when you perform, which is how some athletes describe the zone. Being in the zone is a state of total involvement in a task without the mental burden or worry, doubt, or fear about results.

So, if the zone is that simple, why can't athletes achieve this mindset every time they hit the court or step on the diamond? Many of the top athletes do --Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Maria Sharapova, for example. But some athletes are blocked from entering the zone because they are overtaken by massive distractions such as fear of failure and worry. The top athletes know how to harness the power of the zone by using thoughts and images to trigger a mindset to enter the zone.

"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. " ~Arton Senna, F1 Race Car Driver

Arton Senna's quote is a common description of how athletes depict or explain their experience in the zone: The driver merges with the car; the tennis player joins her mind with the ball and court; the golfer becomes one with the club and the ball; and so on.

Entering the zone may sound zen-like and magical, but actually achieving this level of immersion is very simple. When your mind fully connects with achieving a goal, such as serving an ace, attention is absorbed into the present (the here and now only). Your mind is riveted to the thoughts and images that help you execute with precision.

With pinpoint focus, fear of failure, worry, doubt, indecision, and other mental traps are forbidden from entering your conscious mind. In this state of concentration, mental distractions struggle to compete for your attention, but lose the battle.

With pinpoint focus, fear of failure, worry, doubt, indecision, and other mental traps are forbidden from entering your conscious mind. In this state of concentration, mental distractions struggle to compete for your attention, but lose the battle.

In my work as a mental game expert, many of my students get caught in the mental trap of thinking too much about the *what ifs* or consequences of the outcome of a performance or game. Having a clear goal of what you want to accomplish is critical to peak performance, but worrying too much about the end of the round, match, or game can be destructive to an execution-based (in-the-now) focus. When under the gun during crunch-time, the top players are able to focus more intensely in the present moment and stay in the zone.

"One of the biggest differences between the top players and the good players is when they are under the gun; they see and hear less than anyone else." ~Helen Alfredsson, LPGA Tour

What does Helen mean when she says other athletes see and hear less? The top athletes simply are less distracted when they need to hit a good shot, make a critical first down, or nail an important routine. They do not get caught up in the moment of intense pressure. Champion athletes are able to go deeper into an execution focus. They are able to focus only on what's important to successful performance.

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach who works with athletes, sports parents, and teams of all levels. For more information about Fear of Failure, call 888-742-7225.

01/26/08

Jeremie Rentas Barlow, M.S., can be reached at (502) 553-8299.

 

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