Monday, May 13, 2013

The Zone

Every athlete strives to be an impact player in the sport they play. As roller derby continues to catch the attention of athletes of other sports, the physical and mental training becomes more and more similar to that of popular sports (soccer, football, basketball, and whoa! hockey?!!!). We want to skate the best we can, so we train for many hours strengthening our mind-body connection. What the hell did I just say?! That's right. Mind-body, like yoga, and hippie, new-agey stuff. An innate sense of your body and what it is capable of, and being able maximize it's abilities. There's no doubt that practicing a bunch will help an athlete improve at their sport. The training of body and physical ability will maximize your skills and chances of success, physically. An aspect of athletic training that has been overlooked for a long time is the mental game. It is still a bit of a mystery, but as we emulate the world's top athletes, we in the derbyverse are learning the value of the mental aspect of training and preparation.

Being "in the zone," is the ever elusive, magically tuned connection of the mind-body; when athletes seem to be always at the right place at the right time and are unstoppable. Some describe being "in the zone" as, "everything is in slow motion... I just knew what to do." I think of being "in the zone" as a perfectly mixed cocktail of adrenaline, endorphins, physical training and preparedness, mental/emotional state, and empathy. The physical discipline of training and warming up and a Surge of Andrinaline (Silicon Valley Roller Girls, see what I did there?) helps our muscles to their maximum power output. The mental preparation maximizes our focus and adaptability. But what is it that gives us the god-like awareness, timing, and body intelligence of a perfect mind-body connection and being "in the zone?" Athletes who have been "in the zone," are always hoping it happens again. So, how do we accomplish the feat? Here's the thing... I don't know, and neither does anyone else. That's why it's elusive. Duh.

So why am I writing this blog post? Because I do believe we, as individuals, have the power to train ourselves toward that magical moment of being "in the zone." The physical training being an important factor in informing ourselves what our body is capable of (and strengthen the neural pathways). The other magical god-like part, well, let's just say, "if we could put it in a pill..." It's almost as if there's a button; a trigger, so to speak, that turns it on. But, what that trigger is on any given day, can be totally random. I know, lots of help, right? Read on...

From watching sports my entire life, and witnessing some of the greatest athletes of all time perform "in the Zone," I've learned that the mental game is the most important factor to being "in the zone" than anything else. For instance, Michael Jordan has been known to play some of his best games while sick with the flu. He did it multiple times, so we know it's not just a fluke... and no, the flu is not the trigger for getting "in the zone." My theory on why he played really well while sick: I believe because of his perceived handicap (the flu and it's insult to his body), his drive as a competitor really showed. Jordan, knowing his energy would have to be managed with more care than on a healthy day, forced himself to approach the game with more efficiency. To do this, in my opinion, he became more in tune with himself, his teammates, and opponents. Jordan rose to the occasion and became more aware of himself and his surroundings a bit more acutely, and had performances "in the zone" or in the same zip code. Whether he was actually "in the zone" or not, can be speculated. I think he was... at least part of the time.

The mental game is ever important to an athlete's performance; being mentally and emotionally present helps focus, execution, stamina, and very importantly empathy. When we play (not just derby, but really anything... games, music, etc), we are generally in a state of joy, or awe, and our energy is wide open. We are happy and play with composure, vigor, and intuition. Ever had so much fun playing you felt like you were floating on your smiles? Roller Derby... It's a powerful drug. Being open and empathic to your surroundings (ie, blockers, jammers, officials, coaches) will give you a lot of information even beyond what you can see, hear, and touch. What you can intuit. Like a sixth sense, an informed intuition guides us better than any over-thought strategy, and allows us to perform with confidence... a vision, a knowing that we will succeed. Most of the time, we need to trust in our training and get our doubts out of the way of our mind-body connection.

In order for people to play in a state of joy, we also have to learn to manage our stressors (work, relationships, money, negative self-talk, etc.) so our minds are free to perceive, intuit, and create as we play. Having been living on this planet a while, I've noticed most people have negative self-talk. It's hugely prevalent in derby! Doubting, insecurity, blame, distrust, etc... It's all a real bummer to your energy and the energy of the people around you. You may think no one notices, and consciously, maybe no one does. But, our intuition, and the intuition of those around you, know what's up. Negative emotions will almost definitely block you from reaching "the zone." On the flip-side, a positive outlook, and laser focus determination will do just the opposite, and invite "the zone" to happen. You don't have to take my word for it, try it for yourself. Examine if you play better while frustrated, angry, anxious, sad, or happy, excited, enthused. I'm willing to bet 8 of 10 will skate better, communicate more, have better awareness, and have more swagger while happy and positive.

"The Zone" is truly the pinnacle of an athlete's performance, and we can take the steps to increase our chances of getting in "The Zone." Actually reaching "The Zone" is an athletic alchemy, but through focused physical and mental training and a strong mind-body connection, we can achieve a normal state of play that is similar to being "in the zone," and will most likely be "in the zone" more often. It takes a lot of work... So stop reading this BS and put on your friggin skates!!!