The first step to getting athletes into the Zone is listening to their story of goals, successes and failures, but there is a deeper, greater story that I’m interested in and it is told by their physiology (posture).
Every negative memory affects their physiology at a very deep level —a tight muscle here, a tender joint there, a stooped spine elsewhere, a twisted face, etc. And every fabulous memory triggers their physiology to bolt upright, their faces typically intense and focused.
Physiology is everything!
The biggest obstacle to ensuring we have a great physiology is our human need to be social beings. Typically, our “emotional physiology” will find its own “level” around
others. For example, if people are standing in a dejected manner, we will stand in the same dejected manner. If people stand upright in an empowered manner, we will too.
I call it the “Law of the Party.” It simply states that whatever the strongest
emotional component (person) of the party is, you will move to that level.
To counter the Law of the Party, you have to be aware that you have a choice—leadership or followership. No matter what the sport, you will find very good athletes being pulled down by poor athletes, and poor athletes being pulled up by great good ones. You will find dejected athletes influencing usually motivated ones and motivated ones influencing so-called losers. Generally the “party” wins out every time—mostly because not many people know about it.
Athletes have to understand and prepare for the Law of the Party at all competitions to prevent emotional collapses such as occurred in the recent NHL Vancouver-Boston playoff series. Here are five key things Vancouver might consider next time:
1) Understand the Law and how it works.
Actually one doesn’t have to understand how it works as long as you accept that it does. Simple observation will give you a good idea. Take some time at competitions to watch your teammates meet and talk and notice how they very quickly get into the same physiology—same posture, same arms crossed, etc. You might even notice that some athletes will completely change their behaviors and copy the strongest member of the group. (For a neat video that demonstrates this, plug in “Tiger Woods driving range Nike ad” into YouTube.
2) Play with the Law by making some subtle changes in behavior.
Get into your normal chat with your teammates, and then cross your arms or legs. You’ll be surprised how quickly someone (and sometimes all the people in the group) will do the same thing. It can be hilarious, and it will show you how people unconsciously follow you.
3) Take a leadership role
30 or more minutes before you compete, go quiet. Visualize how well you are going to play and especially see yourself in a leadership role. Notice how tall and expansive you feel as well as the increase in your adrenaline levels. (Be warned; sometimes the Law of the Party kicks in and teammates will try to rope you back into the group. If you want to be a leader, fight any effort to be drawn out of the Zone.)
4) Notice the impact
Keep this intensity before and during your competition, regardless of score, especially when idle (such as on the bench). Notice the impact this has on your team and keep
getting better at staying in the Zone so that you continue to lead them.
Physiology (posture) is everything. Learn to stand tall and maintain that
physiology throughout your competition. It will not only give you the tactical weapon
to overcome and control the Law of the Party, but it might just help you to win
in your sport.