Sports Psychology Coaching


You Need Mental Toughness To Get In The Zone

Bill Cole, MS, MA
The Mental Game Coach™
Silicon Valley, California

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:

  1. Balance between the challenge of the situation and your skills
  2. Concentration on the task at hand
  3. Sense of control
  4. Loss of self-consciousness
  5. Time seems to alter
  6. 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:

  1. Stress Control
  2. Relaxation Training
  3. Concentration
  4. Pre-Event Mental Readiness Training
  5. Pre-Action Mental Readiness Training
  6. Mental Management For Events
  7. Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches
  8. Visualization And Mental Practice
  9. Breath Control
  10. Will-To-Win Competitive Attitude
  11. Coach-Athlete-Parent-Officials Communication
  12. Motivation And Goal Setting Strategies
  13. Mental Toughness
  14. Slump Containment Strategies
  15. Confidence
  16. 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.

  1. Overly sensitive to criticism
  2. Frequent sense of being picked on
  3. Susceptible to psych-outs from opponents
  4. Don't tolerate physical discomfort
  5. Poor delay of gratification
  6. Must be comfortable at all times
  7. Fear of personal injury
  8. Low threshold of pain tolerance
  9. 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

  1. Don't expect trouble but are prepared for it
  2. Don't panic when trouble hits
  3. See unexpected challenges as surprises and exciting
  4. Believe in their abilities in spite of set-backs and failures
  5. Maintain hope in the face of temporary "proof" that they are failing
  6. Maintain poise under pressure
  7. Push negative emotions away when feeling negative is natural
  8. Go with logic and mental powers to overcome negative emotions

Four Questions About The Zone

  1. What is it like when you are in the zone?
  2. What are the top two or three characteristics that seem to take center stage for you during a zone experience?
  3. What types of situations seem to automatically propel you into the zone?
  4. 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.

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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 college athletics.

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You need Mental Toughness to get in The Zone

Bill Cole, MS, MA
Sports Psychology Coaching

2085 East Bayshore Road, #50412, Palo Alto, CA 94303
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