“Playing in the Zone” … what does that mean? It’s a term, also referred to as “Staying in the Moment,” which describes a state of mind which allows us to completely focus on the present situation and task at hand.
This is not created, per se’, by experience. Experience, having been there before, is not always an advantage as the previous experience may not have been successful. That’s the reason a great player may choke, 0 for 20 in the World Series, and a total unknown plays great, 11 for 20, on the big stage.
Experience can be an advantage, such as not being the first time in a nerve-racking situation, but if the prior experience did not produce the desired results, it’s quite possible self-doubts could arise.
Playing in the Zone Vs Statistics:
Most sports are statistically oriented for determining success, which can send a player into a tailspin if s/he focuses too much on the numbers. When a player sets their goals on statistics, it can set their focus on the wrong things.
For instance, thinking “If I get two hits today my average will raise above .300% and I feel I am doing my job.” But this type of pre-game thinking can subconsciously negatively affect the task at hand, such as hitting the ball to the right side of the infield, giving yourself up to insure you move a runner into scoring position.
Statistics have their purpose and place, but the numbers don’t always tell the true story, as a hitter can only control hitting the ball hard in a certain direction, but can not control if the defender makes a great play and catches the ball.
Players who can keep their goals and focus immediately on the task at hand, rather than the end of the day summary, will perform better in tense situations. It may sound easy but it’s not. Let’s assume the situation exists that if the player does not finish with a .300+% batting average he may not make the all-star game. The pressure the expectation of the player making the all-star team can cause severe anxiety and lack of focus, which makes “Staying in the Zone / Staying in the Moment” extremely difficult.
All successful athletes are very good at performing at their peak when the situation demands their above average performance, such as … a two out hit to win or tie the game. Since 99% of these situations create an extremely tense atmosphere, here are a few tips to playing in the Zone no matter the pressure.
Playing in the Zone Tips
(1.) Short-term memory loss is required – how quickly players can one get the last play out of their head, whether it was a good or bad one, is the first step to staying in the moment. An error in the field must be quickly forgotten in order to not negatively affect your next time at bat.
(2.) Long-term memory loss – the ability to leave the past behind, realizing this is a new day and past results have no bearing on this day or the next play. Just because you were 0-4 the last time you faced this pitcher doesn’t mean you’ll go 0 for 4 today.
(3.) Don’t create Pre-conceived Expectations – expectations from self or others promotes extreme self-pressure, which can lead to tension and the inability to focus. Being confident you can repeat the fundamentals under any circumstances is the key to performance under pressure. Such as, you have no doubt to can cleanly field any ground ball hit your direction.
(4.) Keeping your thoughts together – the ability to release stress with a deep breath and breathe normally, tune out the noise and chatter which has no bearing on the play or task at hand, being able to visualize the action in slow motion, separates those, who can stay in the moment and those who lose control to nerves and the situation.
Utilizing these tips along with a deep seated confidence in yourself can help you handle any situation regardless of how stressful it may be. One must remember, great professional baseball players fail 70% of the time, and although dwelling on that is not my intent, things must remain in perspective.