Motivation: Being in the zone

Motivation: Being in the zone

By STEVE KILGALLON – Sunday Star Times

Sourced from : http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/3952107/Motivation-Being-in-the-zone

Last updated 05:00 25/07/2010

Tags: sport, sport psychology, Louis Oosthuizen, golf, Steve Kilgallon, Sunday Star Times

Top sports people develop some unusual rituals to help them perform, writes Steve Kilgallon.

IT EARNED Louis Oosthuizen a brand-new tractor. And $1.8m in prize money. Whenever the unknown 25-year-old South African’s concentration wavered during his winning round at last weekend’s British Open golf tournament, he simply looked down at his glove. On it was stencilled a red dot.

“The red dot helped me quite a lot, looking down at it and remembering what we had been saying and how to get me to focus,” said Oosthuizen later.

To you and me, a red dot. To that legion who variously call themselves mind coaches, sports performance coaches and mental toughness experts, it was a “trigger“.

It’s a step beyond those old sporting rituals involving lucky underwear or being the last to leave the changing room. Instead, that humble red dot is part of a growing trend by sportsmen to use such symbols to find their own “happy place” and prepare to perform.

For Black Cap cricketer Nathan Astle, it was “scratching” the crease with his bat between balls; teammate Chris Harris would walk in a triangle, each point triggering a specific thought. All Black Murray Mexted visualised a giant light switch, which he would symbolically turn on.

Oosthuizen was schooled by a British “mind doctor” named Karl Morris (who admits on his website that he has no “no conventional academic background… but an eclectic knowledge”), who explained: “When there is chaos all around you, it works as a way of separating yourself from it.”

Former New Zealand test cricketer Richard Petrie has worked with various sportsmen, ranging from the national table-tennis team to the Warriors league side, on the mental side of sport. He says Oosthuizen’s red dot routine is about “anchoring” himself. The dot is associated with a positive mindframe and Oosthuizen will have practised so often that the dot itself can instantly change his mood.

“It’s about being in the zone,” says Petrie. “A peak state of mind can be quite elusive. But it is the secret – top performers find it easier to access that emotional state of mind. Average performers go there once or twice a season – the day where every pass goes to the right place and you feel faster and have more stamina. Top performers get there every time.”

Petrie said when he played, he visualised an emotional scale from zero to 10, zero being flat and 10 hyperactive, and tried to raise himself to level seven. The year he used that tactic, he was the leading wicket taker in domestic cricket. “It’s all about controlling your emotions, deciding where you need to be emotionally when you perform. It’s the secret to elite performance.”

The difference between these rituals and old-school superstitions is that superstititions are a reaction – I wore those undies and we won, so I’ll keep wearing them – while rituals are a proactive attempt to guarantee a good mindset. The red dot is perfect because it’s simple and easy to access. “What if two guys need to be the last to leave the changing room?” asks Petrie. “One is going to freak out.

“It’s got to be a very simple routine: under stress, you can forget it even if you’ve done it a million times.”

That simple red dot also stands for something else, suggests Craig Lewis, a performance coach whose CV includes work with the 2005 world champion Kiwis league team, New Zealand winter olympians and leading squash players and golfers. Lewis believes that as well as changing his mood, the dot will trigger Oosthuizen’s pre-shot routine – a set pattern of movements before he strikes the ball, such as visualising the stroke, preparing his grip and his stance. The benefit of such a trigger is it takes a sportsman through the movements without them having to consciously think through each step.

“It’s the same when you have a detailed gameplan, you break it down to two or three focus points to trigger back to the more detailed plan,” says Lewis. “You keep the detailed plan at a conscious level until it becomes second nature, then use triggers to ignite the process.”

Lewis prepared a series of pre-match themes under the title “kaizen” (Japanese for constant improvement) when the Kiwis shocked rugby league by winning the 2005 Tri-Nations series.

They beat Australia 24-0 in the final with a slogan “slay the dragon“. “We had simple messages – `brothers in arms’, `slay the dragon’, `carpe diem’,” Lewis says, “but they were all based around more detailed plans. We got the players to ease into them by using a simple message to trigger it.”

Warriors coach Ivan Cleary admits he used to polish his boots before every match because he once played poorly with muddy footwear. Now, as a coach, Cleary’s willing to let his players have their own quirks, as long as they contribute to their performance. “All it really means is another way to switch into game mode – it’s not what it is, it’s how it makes you comfortable,” he says. “People find it out for themselves.”

And sometimes, they do it without knowing why. Petrie says many top sportsmen “can’t articulate” how they do things. Oosthuizen was unusual because he knew exactly what he was doing. Even when he approached the 71st of 72 holes, leading by eight shots, he told himself he hadn’t won yet, and looked at his red dot.

Sourced from : http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/3952107/Motivation-Being-in-the-zone

Shared by “passionate sports-fanatic couch potato” Craig

It’s the direct opposite of choking, where fear overtakes and ruins a sportsman’s performance.

The greatest mountain we have to climb stands in our own minds. It’s not  the mountain we conquer, but ourselves…overcoming perceived limits to reach (attain) the pinnacle of our own minds.”

– craig (as inspired by the words of Sir Edmund Hilary, New Zealand conquerer of Mt Everest – 1919-2008)
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