When you are playing at the top of your A-game you know it. You
feel invincible. Powerful. Focused. Flowing. Ecstatic. It's a wonderful
place to be. You're flowing. You're in the zone.
Wouldn't it be nice to have the zone on a switch that you could
simply flip anytime you wanted? Top performers seem to have this
ability. They can do so based on years of training, exposure to
pressure, mental readiness strategies, self-knowledge, concentration,
experimentation, reflection and dedication to their art.
For almost everyone, superstars included, you can set up the mental-emotional-physical
conditions that help you get in the proper mind-set to perform well.
One way is to take charge of your performance by priming your mind
with images and snapshots of previous zone experiences you have
had so you can call them up when you need them most. Here are the
six most common characteristics of the zone:
- Balance between the challenge of the situation and your skills
- Concentration on the task at hand
- Sense of control
- Loss of self-consciousness
- Time seems to alter
- Your performance is automatic
How do you achieve the mental consistency that allows you to enter
the zone, under pressure? When I was the Sports Psychology Coach
for the #1-nationally-ranked Stanford baseball team, I implemented
a mental training program containing these critical elements:
- Stress Control
- Relaxation Training
- Pre-Event Mental Readiness Training
- Pre-Action Mental Readiness Training
- Mental Management For Events
- Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches
- Visualization And Mental Practice
- Breath Control
- Will-To-Win Competitive Attitude
- Coach-Athlete-Parent-Officials Communication
- Motivation And Goal Setting Strategies
- Mental Toughness
- Slump Containment Strategies
- Emotional Control
Mental Toughness Is Key
Athletes who do NOT possess mental toughness have a hard time
getting into the zone. They tend to have these qualities.
- Overly sensitive to criticism
- Frequent sense of being picked on
- Susceptible to psych-outs from opponents
- Don't tolerate physical discomfort
- Poor delay of gratification
- Must be comfortable at all times
- Fear of personal injury
- Low threshold of pain tolerance
- Unable to push past tiredness, boredom or other blocks
Athletes who possess mental toughness can handle emotional, mental
and physical challenges and hardships and don't complain. They can
tolerate frustration and blocked goals and continue to persevere.
They accept criticism without feeling attacked.
Other Signs Of Mental Toughness
- Don't expect trouble but are prepared for it
- Don't panic when trouble hits
- See unexpected challenges as surprises and exciting
- Believe in their abilities in spite of set-backs and failures
- Maintain hope in the face of temporary "proof" that they are
- Maintain poise under pressure
- Push negative emotions away when feeling negative is natural
- Go with logic and mental powers to overcome negative emotions
Four Questions About The Zone
- What is it like when you are in the zone?
- What are the top two or three characteristics that seem to
take center stage for you during a zone experience?
- What types of situations seem to automatically propel you into
- What can you do to become more mentally tough?
The ability to enter the zone seemingly almost on command is one
of the hallmarks of top performers in all walks of life. Although
the zone can sometimes be a temperamental entity, the mental readiness
steps for achieving it are under your control. Once you know the
zone intimately it is far easier to get there again. Study this
list, expand your experience of it and know your personal triggers
that propel you into the zone. Then you will be closer to making
your own zone experiences happen almost on command.
Copyright © 2007-2008 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance,
mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William
B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals
achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing
the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching
worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles,
and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time
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