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by Karlene (Sugarman) Pick, M.A.
In the flow, in a groove, on a roll, in the zone - whatever you call it, it's all defining one thing. It's that special feeling of playing like you can do no wrong and everything goes your way. You are so involved in what you are doing that nothing else seems to matter because you are so connected to your task.
Unfortunately, these peak performances don't seem to happen often enough. In fact, every time it does happen, it is usually by chance, it just happened to be a day when everything fell into place, clicked for you, and you got a taste of what it's like to be in the zone. It's kind of like getting a taste of the good life. Hopefully this occurrence will motivate you to do everything you can to have more peak performances.
By implementing mental training skills and working effectively as a team, you can increase the chances of this transpiring on a more consistent basis and you will be able to be in the zone as one harmonious unit. Being in the zone means doing more than anyone else thought possible, even superseding your own expectations at times. This zone is the definitive reason why many people are motivated to participate in sports.
Characteristics of being IN THE ZONE
- Relaxed: The days of getting psyched up to play are over. Research has shown over and over that the best performances occur when you are just slightly above your normal state of arousal, not at the extreme end of the spectrum as once thought. You are energized, yet relaxed; it's a subtle balance of quiet intensity. Your mind is calm and your body is ready to go. You feel relaxed, but you are able to move with great strength and ease.
- Confident: Not letting a lapse in performance undermine your belief in your overall abilities is at the core of this characteristic. When you are playing well, you feel confident that no matter what you are up against, you are going to come out on top. You just exude confidence and pride, and it is evident in your performance. There is no fear. Confidence on the inside is outwardly shown by way of your presence, your walk and your facial expressions. You should expect to be successful, not hope or wish to be successful. You must adopt a confident, winning attitude. It is trusting your instincts and intuition to do the right thing at the right time; and if you are prepared, you can be confident that this will happen. This complete faith allows you to just know that you are going to do everything necessary to be successful without the conscious use of reasoning or analyzing.
- Completely focused: You are totally absorbed in the moment. You have no memory of the past and no qualms about the future; you are here now. The only thing you are concentrating on is the task at hand. You are oblivious to everything else going on around you, consumed by the moment. Like a child playing with his toys, you are so absorbed in the moment that nothing outside can effect you. You have no real sense of time, and before you know it, the game is over. The game seems to have flown by, and at the same time, everything you did seemed to happen in a slowed-down pace with great precision and concentration. Having the ability to stay in the moment is a gift that all peak performers have.
- Effortless: Things just sort of happen with little or no effort whatsoever. All your moves are smooth and for that time, your sports seems like the easiest thing in the world. You are in a state of mind and body where you can accomplish great things with little effort. Your mind and body are working with one another in perfect unison. The grace and ease that you display make everything you do seem like the simplest task in the world. You have a sense of finesse and grace, even when the task is very grueling and demanding. That sort of connectedness and moment of greatness is an awesome thing to witness or experience.
- Automatic: There is no interference from your thoughts or emotions. Things are just happening, both without protest and without consent. You are on auto pilot - just reacting to whatever comes your way. Your body just seems to know what to do without any directive from you. There is no conscious thought involved; you're going strictly on your instincts. If you think less, you will achieve more.
- Fun: When you're in the flow, the enjoyment is incomparable to anything else. You feel like when you were a kid enjoying your sport with pure and innocent delight. Anyone can see in your eyes the satisfaction and fulfillment the sport gives you. You feel like your sport is giving you back something that you can't get from anyone or anything else. This is a key factor because if you don't enjoy your sport, your future in it will be limited.
- In Control: You feel that no matter what, you are in control. What you think and want to happen will. You have ultimate command over your emotions as well - you are controlling them, not the other way around. When you are in control, you are in charge. You govern your own destiny. When you feel this strong of a command over your game, great things are sure to happen. The authority is yours, and no one else's.
Suceess in sports requires your mind and your body and as an athlete it is very important to have a clear mental picture of what it is you are striving for. By taking some time to think about peak performances you have had in the past, you make sure they happen more often!
[Adapted from Chapter 1 of Winning the Mental Way, by Karlene Sugarman, M.A.—for more information please contact Karlene at firstname.lastname@example.org].
Karlene is a Mental Training Consultant and works with athletes and teams teaching mental training techniques and team building strategies. She works with athletes in sports such as golf, skating, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and others.
Karlene co-presented at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) conference in Salt Lake City, UT (2009) and in Honolulu, HI (2011).
Karlene is an Adjunct Professor in the Sport Psychology Program at John F. Kennedy University.
Karlene is the author of the book, Winning the Mental Way: A practical guide to team building and mental training. She is also a member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).
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