Have You Experienced Playing in the Zone?

If you’ve ever played in a game where you did really well, had a laser-like focus, and felt energized and relaxed at the same time, you may have been in the “zone”. In these situations, everything else outside of what you’re doing seems to disappear Fans, parents, coaches, the amount of time left in a game- they all become a blur and your mind is completely absorbed by what you’re doing. By putting all your attention on what’s going on right in front of you, your mind is able to concentrate on only the thoughts and images that help you perform successfully. Some psychologists also refer to being in the zone as having “flow”. No matter what you call it, it’s a powerful tool that can help you succeed in sports, test-taking, music, or any other form of highly technical, engaging activity.

Being in the zone helps you execute your task successfully because this mindset automates the necessary behaviors. In this state, you can easily accomplish what you need with little mental effort. By the way, we’re not talking about situations where you’re competing with a weaker opponent and it’s super easy to win.

To enter the zone, you have to be challenged. Most athletes cannot predict or control when they’re going to be in the zone. Some only experience it a few times in their lives. But sports psychologists tout a series of particular techniques that can most help you to get and stay in the zone.

Here are some things that a student-athlete can keep in mind.

  • Make sure that you have the physical skills needed. In other words, if you don’t feel confident with your passing or receiving skills in soccer, don’t expect to be able to perform optimally in the upcoming game. Practice until you have confidence in your skills.

  • Do breathing exercises before the game and during breaks to calm your nerves and maintain focus. 

  • Know what your goals are before your performance. Know how to respond to different scenarios by mentally visualizing them. 

  • When you make a mistake during a game, let it go by physically “wiping the mistake away” on your shorts. By doing this, it sends a subconscious message to your brain to get rid of the mistake and out of your head.

  • Have one keyword you can use to maximize performance. Golfers have been known to use the word “relaxed” or “loose” before swinging their golf club. Swimmers can use “glide” and basketball players can use “swish” before they make a shot.

  • Focus on the enjoyment of the game and not on how you rank or what the score is.

  • Block out whatever else is going on in your life. Easier said than done, we know. But top athletes report that they don’t focus on their personal life issues while performing sports.  

  • Know your optimal level of arousal. If you perform better when psyched up, then increase your levels of arousal prior to competition. You can remember when you were pumped at a previous game, or listen to fast-paced music. If you’re an athlete that plays better when relaxed, try deep breathing exercises, or listen to music with slower-paced beats to calm nerves. 


Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get in the zone every time. In fact, the most surefire way to stop yourself from entering the zone is to beat yourself up for having not yet entered it. When we are in the zone, we don’t even realize it until afterwards. Even professional athletes need to work at it. Practicing some or all of the techniques will ultimately lead to a better sports experience, no matter the outcome.

Works Cited

“Entering ‘The Zone’ : A Guide for Coaches.” The Sport Journal, 7 Aug. 2017, thesportjournal.org/article/entering-the-zone-a-guide-for-coaches/.

“How Great Athletes Find ‘The Zone’: Part I.” EXACT Sports, 10 Nov. 2015, exactsports.com/blog/how-great-athletes-find-the-zone-part-i/2011/05/04/.

Peterson, Dan. “How Do Athletes Get 'In the Zone' of Peak Performance?” LiveScience, Purch, 2 June 2010, www.livescience.com/32620-how-do-athletes-get-in-the-zone-of-peak-performance.html.

“Understand THE ZONE in Sports.” Sports Psychology Today – Sports Psychology, www.sportpsychologytoday.com/youth-sports-psychology/understanding-the-zone-in-sports/.
Kevin L. Burke, et al. “What Do Athletes Mean by 'Playing in the Zone?'.” Sporting News, Getty, 26 Jan. 2017, www.sportingnews.com/us/other-sports/news/what-does-in-the-zone-mean-athletes-peak-performances/1kugz4tuad8j513rgnpophp65q.


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