Performing In The Zone
We all can think of a time that we felt we performed at our peak, or “in the zone”. You may have had a perfect day on the golf course or amazing workout. Or maybe you gave a presentation with incredible confidence and ease. During these times, it’s likely that you noticed a sense of mastery, deep concentration, emotional exhilaration, a perception of effortlessness, relaxation and, most importantly, greater focus on the present moment.
Sports psychologists interested in elucidating the nature of “the zone” have compared it to a condition known as flow, a well-defined phenomena over the last 30 years. Flow qualities include:
- The centering of one's attention.
- A perception of control over one's environment or actions.
- A lost sense of time.
- A state of peak performance.
- A feeling of being relaxed, confident, centered in the present and detached from distractions.
These qualities are, in many ways, extraordinarily similar to those found during moments of mindfulness where one’s attention is present centered and without judgment. In fact, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski, two legendary basketball coaches, both spoke of the importance to performance of being in the moment, focusing on process rather than outcome, and letting go of the uncontrollable, all of which are key aspects of mindfulness. Who doesn't know that a golf game can be won by letting go of the memory of a past shot, staying in the present, accepting what happens without judgment, and observing the ball?
In what was probably the first clinical exploration of mindfulness in sport, John Kabot Zinn et al., used mindfulness to help train the 1984 US Olympic men's rowing team. Many rowers who medaled felt that the training helped them to prepare and perform at an optimal level.
In 2007, Gardner at al. investigated the use of a mindfulness intervention in college athletes and found that 32% demonstrated a clinically significant increase in coach ratings of performance following the intervention.
In another study done by Kaufman at al. in 2009, 32 recreational athletes, including golfers and archers, underwent a four-week mindfulness-training program, which included a walking exercise specific to the sport focus. Over the course of the study, the level of flow achieved by the athletes during their weekly performances increased significantly as did measures of mindfulness. By the training’s completion, golfers were able to de-center and exhibited higher levels of sports confidence.
In another smaller study of seven golfers done by Bernier et al. in 2009, all those in the mindfulness intervention group improved their national rankings, while only two golfers in the control group were able to do so.
Kabat-Zinn has suggested that mindfulness is synonymous with the practice of non-doing, which is a kind of effortless effort. Mindfulness researchers feel that it is this concept of effortless effort that seems to lie at the heart of flow, peak performance and the zone. Perhaps this is why teams such as the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls have used mindfulness skills to enhance their training. But equally important, mindfulness can also improve psychological wellbeing, and hence, enjoyment of the sport itself.← The Perks of Being an Altruist The Memory Game →