Can We Train To Get
In The Zone?
In The Zone, as many athletes will tell you, is the only place to be. Nothing quite compares to this experience of a peak performance at your peak fitness. Many studies have researched athlete's experiences in this state. Regardless of their sport they have found many similarities in the words they use to describe their experience. Can we use their findings to give us some idea of how we can open the door a little wider to enter into it?

A review of these studies to date identifies seven common characteristics of a Zone experience. Athletes reported they ...

were totally absorbed in the activity

experienced an inner clarity

had a sense of ecstasy and being outside everyday reality

were in the moment, focused on the present

felt a deep passion for the activity

had a sense of serenity, no anxiety about their performance

had no sense of effort - it just happened

For many sports people a peak performance comes as a surprise. One minute they a performing, the next, suddenly they are in The Zone and life just got a whole lot easier. I believe these episodes happen when you can get out of the way and temporarily perform outside of your usual habitual boundaries, the old rules don’t apply and suddenly your movement, decision-making and sporting skills escalate way beyond your expectations.

running in the zone Take a look at the photograph on the right, which of these runners are more likely to be in The Zone? If we compare the athletes with the list above I would say the two on the right are zoners whereas the runner on the extreme left is definitely not. From a physical point of view, the runners on the right look relaxed, balanced and upright. The athlete on the left looks tense, has tightened his neck and shoulders and is off-balance.

Training To Get in The Zone
I believe The Zone is a primitive survival skill heightening our state of alertness in challenging situtations. Participation in sport may trigger this capacity but only if we allow it to happen. If it is a primitive skill would it be an automatic function? Could it switch on when certain criteria are met? If so it would mean we could not enter The Zone by deliberately trying any more than we can get to sleep by shutting our eyes tighter.

We all have the ability to switch on and perform - we just have to learn to allow the process to work. Training with a different attitude can bring about the state where we are better placed to let it just happen. If there is any anxiety about our performance it is not going to happen.

Obviously you need to have the necessary skills to perform in The Zone for your sport, but it is important to detach yourself from the ego and concerns you may have in order to get out of the way and allow your mind and body to work together and let it happen. In my view, the most important attribute for any sports person is the ability to be in the moment. All else follows from there. Perhaps our ancestors, without the distractions and pressures of the modern world, spend more time in The Zone because like children they live in the present. This is the skill we need to practise and once mastered, The Zone could become more of a reality.
A Mind For The Zone
I believe The Zone is a natural ability we all share and what prevents us getting there is a habit of trying too hard, often encouraged by traditional training methods. Excessive effort impedes your body's innate reflexes for movement and will stop you becoming absorbed in the activity - a pre-requiste of getting into The Zone.

Peak Performance Program
I started to research this fascinating area around 10 years ago. I was curious as to why one day I could run the perfect race whilst the next I was totally useless! Working with sports people I realized I wasn't the only one to be frustrated by this phenomenon.

I found one common factor that hugely influenced performance and stopped us from getting into The Zone. What really surprised me was that, like myself, not one athlete had been previously aware of it!

My new book Zone Mind, Zone Body covers in detail my research, theories and practical techniques. It will not only show you what the 'unknown factor' is, but how you can take control to your advantage.

Please click on the cover or here for more information.

Prepare For The Zone
Dr Patrick J. Cohn a sports psychologist, believes you can create a mindset that will increase you chances to get in The Zone. His research identified five keys to entering it.

1. Are you confident? – Few athletes can perform well if they lack confidence on the day. Self-confidence comes from a belief in your ability and technique. Past performances, success and properly targeted training regimes help to build confidence and the knowledge you are up to the challenges ahead.

2. Can you become immersed into the task? – This involves knowing what to focus on and how to refocus when distracted. This also means staying with the present task in hand and not getting ahead of yourself. It is therefore important to determine what is relevant to your sporting performance and develop abilities to focus on these cues.

3. Can you let go of your mistakes? – Mistakes are going to happen in sport but they have to be put behind you immediately. Holding onto the guilt is only going to have an impact on your next move. Cohn recommends having a plan for ‘releasing bad plays’.

4. Does it feel automatic? – Practice can help to develop skills that feel automatic and effortless or ‘a strong memory pattern of a skill’. This can allow you to focus on your strategy or your opponent if the activity can look after itself. Some describe it as being on autopilot although I dislike this term as it suggests no thought is involved.

Dr Cohn's excellent website is a great resource for 'zoners'. To visit his site click here.

You will also find Dr Jay P. Granat's website Stay in The Zone interesting. He has coached thousands of athletes using sports pyschology and hypnotherapy to create the mindset to get into The Zone for a peak performance.

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snatch & the grey man