By Matt Cuccaro and Scott Swainston
“I was in the zone, things were easy. I wasn’t thinking…just playing and playing incredibly well.”
Every athlete remembers a time when they played beyond their abilities and the performance seemed effortless. Those who perform at the highest and most consistent levels understand this “zone” is actually something which can be created and maintained.
As fans, we watch athletes like Rafa and Serena do things on the court which don’t seem possible. Some might wonder how they got to that level. How are they able to maintain it in front of millions of fans and potential critics?
The mysterious key to unlocking potential and making performances feel a bit less stressful revolves around one critical concept – embracing challenge. Practice sessions based on mastering challenging tasks can have a great impact on creating similar experiences more often. Individuals who consistently stretch personal limits understand the concept of a challenge and seem to thrive under its conditions.
When challenges are embraced, individuals are able to put their egos on hold and replace energy with an ultimate focus on enjoying the struggle of the task at hand. The more comfortable an individual becomes with embracing challenge, the less limits are placed on personal performance.
No athlete, student, musician or business professional can improve without facing challenge. They encourage us to try new things, invent ways to solve problems and learn from mistakes made along the way. Individuals who prefer to stay within the safety of a particular comfort zone limit learning opportunities and impede the chances of developing new skills.
Below are a few tips to improving your day-to-day practice habits:
• Look messy for a while: If you aren’t willing to make mistakes, you aren’t going to learn.
• Be progressive: As new skills are developed, the pace and amount of information being absorbed should start slow and take place in smaller spaces. As comfort and mastery begins to grow, the pace and scope should expand as well.
• Involve curiosity and experimentation: The best practices are ones where you try something, see what happens and occasionally leave time for evaluation. Too much evaluation leads to tension and micro-managing otherwise fluid movements and strokes.
Follow these tips to maximize your mindset at practice by effectively embracing challenges. Athletes who challenge themselves on a daily basis are continually improving and therefore training themselves to compete confidently and efficiently when it matters most. By embracing challenge, you might find yourself “in the zone” a bit more often.
About Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Matt Cuccaro serves as Director of Mental Training for Junior Sports Corporation (Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy and Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy) on Hilton Head Island, S.C. In addition to his work with juniors, his clients include professional and amateur athletes around the world in a number of sports domains. Follow him on Twitter: @MentalCoachMatt.
About Scott Swainston, M.S.
Scott Swainston is the Assistant Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Scott received his bachelor's degree in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Master of Science in Sport Psychology from Georgia Southern University.
For more information on Ivan Lendl IJTA: www.LendlTennis.com/info