The Internet's Official BMX Magazine.

Finding the Zone More Often
Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.
Peak Performance Sports

Your confidence was tremendous--you felt no one could beat you that day. You could make any move you wanted. You were so engrossed into one task at a time that you were oblivious to distractions. Your performance seemed so easy and effortless that your bike felt like an extension of yourself. Never before did you feel so in control of yourself and your performance. It was so fun to execute each race just as envisioned. Only after the race did you realize that you performed the best of your life, and were in the elusive "zone".

At one time you probably raced in the zone even if it was only for a short period. The zone is characterized by a combination of feelings including high self-confidence, a task focus, fearless attitude, and self-composure. Your mind and body work in harmony to produce optimal performance. It's impossible to force yourself into the zone, but you can create a mindset that helps you enter the zone more frequently. Based upon hundreds of interviews with athletes on the psychology of peak performance, there are five keys to entering the zone.

1. Are You Confident?
It's rare when you race well without self-confidence. It's a mindset. Self-confidence is defined as the strength of your belief about how well you can race. Confidence develops from practice, performing well in the past, trusting your abilities, and knowing you are physically talented. First, know how you gain confidence, then work on those areas that can directly improve your confidence.

2. Can You Become Immersed into the Task?
The ability to fully focus on the task is a prerequisite to peak performance in any sport. Most of us can concentrate well, but do you know what to focus on and how to refocus when distracted? Total focus means absorbing yourself into the process of execution to the point that distractions are minimal. It also means performing one move at a time and not getting ahead of yourself. Decide what the relevant performance cues in your sport are and then focus all your attention on those cues.

3. Can You Let go of Mistakes?
To play in the zone you must be able to put errors, falls, or blow rides behind you fast. You don't want to carry "the monkey on your back" while you race. Make sure you have a plan for releasing mistakes. You are human and mistakes or bad luck can hurt your attitude if you let them.

4. Does it Feel Automatic?
The feeling of an automatic and effortless performance is another mindset associated with the zone. With a lot of practice, you develop a strong memory pattern of riding and racing, which then makes your performance feel effortless. It feels like you are on autopilot--you don't have to think, you just react to the course ahead of you. This frees you to focus on strategy or anticipate your opponent.

5. Do You Stay in Control?
When playing in the zone, athletes feel very much in control of themselves and their performance. To enter the zone, you need to be in control of your emotions. You have to tread the line between feeling excited and "up," but not cross over into anxiety and fear. Excitement helps you play better, but fear and anxiety stifle your game. Use the pressure of competition to help you focus better on the task in front of you.

Note: This is a first article in a series on sports psychology and how it helps BMX Racers.

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a leading sports psychologist who works with BMX Racers and athletes in all sports. For questions, email Dr. Cohn at pcohn@peaksports.com or visit his web site at www.peaksports.com.


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