The Zone: What It Is and How To Find It

Aug 16th, 2013

Category: Coaching

The Zone: What It Is and How To Find It

Most athletes know what it feels like to be in the zone. The zone is an amazing phenomenon that leads to extreme performance improvements. There are tons of players with NBA/WNBA level talent, however, a player who cannot get in their zone CONSISTENTLY will never play at an elite level. In this article I’d like to introduce the concept of “The Zone”, and give some simple tips on how to find your zone consistently.

“The Zone” or “Flow” has been a focal point of sports psychology for ages. An examination by Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi (1999) explained the 10 elements of the zone as follows:

1. Balance of challenge and skills: For flow to occur it is imperative that an athlete believes that he or she has the skills to successfully meet the physical, technical, and mental challenges faced.
2. Complete absorption in the activity: The participant is so involved in the activity that nothing else seems to matter.
3. Clear goals: Goals are so clearly set that the athlete knows exactly what to do. This clarity of intention facilitates concentration and attention.
4. Merging of action and awareness: The athlete is aware of their actions but not of the awareness itself.
5. Total concentration on the task at hand: Performers report that they feel like a beam of concentrated energy. Crowd noise, opponent reactions, and other distractions simply don’t matter. The focus of attention is clearly on the task at hand.
6. Loss of self-consciousness: Performers report that their ego is completely lost in the activity itself.
7. A sense of control: This element of flow refers to the fact that the athlete is not actively aware of control; rather, they are simply not worried by the possibility of lack of control.
8. No goals or rewards external to the activity: The athlete participates purely because of the activity itself, without seeking any other reward.
9. Transformation of time: Athletes in flow typically report that time seems to speed up, although for some it slows down. However, most individuals in flow report transformations in their perceptions of time.
10. Effortless movement: This element refers to the fact that the athlete is performing well but is not really thinking about it and doesn’t appear to be trying too hard.

How To Find Your Zone
While it’s important to understand the aspects of “the zone”, you must understand HOW to find your zone. Below I will give you 5 important tips that will help you find your flow come game time.

1. Visualize

If the mind has already been there, it’s a lot easier for you to perform optimally on the court. There are several different strategies that athletes have been using for hundreds of years. My favorite visualization strategy is the “think back, think forward” method. For this method, you would sit down in a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and think back to one of your best games. Mentally replay the whole game in your head. Watch yourself from a crowd member’s point of view. Visualize every detail such as body posture and the facial expressions you had during the game. You should spend at least 10-15 minutes replaying the game in your mind. After you finish your visualization you will notice an instant boost in confidence.

Now, you will dedicate the next 10-15 minutes to visualizing the upcoming game. Visualize the game exactly as you would like it to go. Focus heavily on details such as the court, crowd, the opposing players, and sound. Visualization works best when you use vivid details. Think about the crowd and the chants they will use, what they will say after you score, will there be a loud mouth in the crowd yelling nonsense? If you visualize the right way, nothing will throw you off when it comes up in the game.

2. Maintain A Pre-Game Routine

A consistent pre-game routine is crucial for optimal performance. I can’t give specific recommendations on what to do pre-game because everyone is different. What matters most is that you keep your pre-game routine consistent and never change it up. Think about what you did in the hours leading up to your best games. Now do this EVERY time. Don’t eat anything new, don’t listen to anything new, don’t watch anything new! If you played well after listening to a Jay-Z album, listen to that album before every game. Sometimes little things such as a bad song stuck in your head can throw you off. An example of a good pre-game routine would be: 30 minutes of listening to your favorite album, 30 minutes of visualization, 15 minute preparation talk with team, 10 minute ball handling/passing, 10 minute dynamic warm-up, 10 minute on-court warm-up

3. Go Into Each Game On Good Terms w/ Family/Friends

Nothing can trigger a bad performance like a fight with your family/friends. When your personal relationships aren’t stable it’s very hard to focus 100% and find your zone. Be sure to clear up any issues w/ family/friends before games, or better yet, just stay on good terms with them at all times.

4. Don’t Get Too High, Don’t Get Too Low

Keeping a level head is very important when it comes to staying in the zone. Don’t get too hyped when things go your way, and don’t get down on yourself when you’re not playing well. Players that allow themselves to ride the emotional rollercoaster are often the most inconsistent. If you pay attention Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose, you will notice that their facial expressions stay the same whether they’re playing well or getting blown out.

5. Play Present

Playing present is a piggyback from point #4. It’s a simple concept, but not an easy one to master. To put yourself in the zone, you have to engage yourself in the moment. Meaning, you cannot think back to the last play and you can’t think about the fourth quarter. Your focus MUST be on the current play. It doesn’t matter if you air-balled your last shot because there’s nothing you can do to take that back. Think short-term memory and move on. To find your zone you must have 100% focus on the current play, and not paying mind to the past or future.

Being in touch with your zone is what takes you from a “great talent” to a “great player”. Just like you practice your jump shot and handles, you need to practice finding your zone. Remember, the body works perfectly, it’s the mind that gets in the way.

If you have questions/comments please leave them below. I would like to hear what helps YOU find the zone!


Jackson, S.A., & Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1999) Flow in Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics


  1. Josh H. August 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM

    Great advice! I have always told my players they need to stabilize personal relationships before big games.

    I like tip #2 and I look forward to implementing it. I think players often switch up their pre-game routine too often and this effects performance.

    Good stuff Paul!

  2. Paul Fabritz August 19, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    Thank you Josh. Let me know how your players’ mental training is coming along!

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