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Sports Psychology: What Is The Zone Really Like And How Do You Get There

Posted by: Dr. Granat on September 19, 2008

What Is The Zone?



    For more than twenty years, athletes have been coming to talk to me to discover


what they can do to improve their performance.  These athletes have included


children, high school students trying to get Division I scholarships,


college athletes, Olympic athletes and  professionals. 


     My patients have included:


professional golfers, football players, professional tennis players,


martial artists, professional  bowlers, basketball players,  swimmers, hockey goalies,


swimmers, divers, gymnasts, ice skaters, horse shoe players, runners,


baseball players, , racket ball players, skiers, trap shooters, billiards players,


race car drivers, motorcycle racers,  people who play competitive darts and


people who compete in equestrian events.


             In some respects, each of these athletes wanted the same thing.  They


all wanted to learn how to get in the zone and stay there.


           Athletes have described “the zone” in many different ways.  A baseball


player said, “Everything is easy.  The ball seems huge.  I know what the pitcher is


throwing before he releases the ball.  I feel great.  It’s a high.  My sex life even


improves when I feel like I’m in the zone.”


               A football lineman told me, “The guys on the other side of the ball look




           A hockey goalie said, “I feel bigger and quicker in the net.”


           A golfer claimed, “I feel like I am the ball.  I don’t have to think about a thing.


It just happens.”


             A boxer described it this way, “I can anticipate the punches before they leave my


opponent’s body.  My reactions are faster.  This gives me a big edge in the ring.”



                                                     What Is The Zone?


      The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness.  In addition,


there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus.  In this state of mind, there is


no self-criticism and the person is living in the present.  They are immersed in the


here and now.  Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your


dreams or goals can become achievable and real.  In addition, there is also a sense


of deep enjoyment when the person is in this unique, special and magical state


of being.


           It is important to understand that zone is an altered state of consciousness and


that it is very much like a hypnotic trance, which is why I teach athletes self-hypnosis.


Learning hypnosis, shows the athletes what they need to feel, think and do to ease into


the zone.


Out Of The Zone



      To better understand what it is like to be in the zone, it is important to understand


what being out of the zone is like.  If you dissect the definition, you can see the


kinds of mental factors which will block you from entering the zone.  So, if


you are nervous or anxious, you can not enter the zone.  If you are self-critical,


you won’t get into the zone.  If you are living in the past or the future as opposed


to the here and now, you will not get into the zone.  If you are thinking about your


physical actions, you can not ease yourself into the zone.  If you are angry, bored


or not having fun at what you are doing, you will not be able to transport your mind




and your body into the zone.   If you’re distracted by many different stimuli, you


can’t develop the singular focus that are pre-requisites for entering the zone.


Also, if you are not in touch with your dreams, fantasies and goals it is hard for


you to enter the zone.


                 While there is no magic formula for entering the zone, many of the


athletes I counsel benefit from knowing what they need to do mentally to replicate


the zone state.  The pathway to the zone varies from athlete to athlete and from


sport to sport. 


Entering The Zone


                One tennis player who I worked with found that he could enter the


zone by learning to quiet his self-critical voice.  Once he ended the negative


criticism, he was able to ease into the zone.


               A basketball player I counseled improved his foul shooting by spending


ten minutes a day visualizing perfect foul shots.  This visualization technique enabled


him to elevate his foul shooting percentage from sixty five per cent to eighty five per



           A martial artist who I coached used images of a ferocious


bear to find her right level of aggressiveness and tenacity.  She would imagine that


she was either an aggressive bear before her matches. 


            A golf pro who also loved playing the guitar learned how to rediscover his


relaxed swing by playing his favorite rock song over and over again.


            A diver who came to see me was performing poorly in big competitions.


 After talking to him for a while, we decided he would do better if he did not


look at his opponents’ scores during the competition.  He was much more


comfortable focusing solely on his own performance.  This focus helped him


significantly improve his  mental approach to diving.  Consequently, his


performance improved significantly.


          Humor has been a very useful tool in helping athletes to dial into the zone.


Since I love telling jokes and stories, I frequently share a playful anecdote with


an athlete before they step on to the field or the court.


           Many techniques for entering the  zone are described in the Stay In The Zone


program which is available at



Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist and The Founder of




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