The zone is a well-known temporary performance state that athletes may enter into in which they perform instinctively and without conscious thought processes. It is well known because it allows athletes to perform at their optimum level. In this scenario, the brain thinks about the sports action and the body performs it exactly as the brain conceived it without any intervening thought processes.
It is particularly difficult to get in the zone in gymnastics, as opposed to other sports because the competition time is so short. In other sports, like football or basketball, the length of the game allows athletes to initially play normally and then get into the zone after a period of time.
Even comparing those two sports football and basketball, it is easier to get in the zone in basketball because there are long periods of play without stopping, whereas in football, they stop after every play.
Gymnastics is the opposite having long periods of waiting interspersed with short periods of competition. This makes it one of the hardest sports in which to get in the zone. It is possible to experience the perfection of performing in the zone in gymnastics.
Being in the zone requires a previous mastery of the skill (for vaulting) or skills in the routine. A gymnast cannot operate in the zone if they have not done the skills correctly previously.
For gymnasts, the rest depends on control of their mental focus. Being in the zone means being totally in the moment with the mind only focusing on the immediate present and only on the task at hand.
Focus and concentration must be intense enough to blank out all distractions. Distractions may be mental, like worrying about a skill coming up in your routine, thinking about what the coach or someone will think about your routine or being affected by physical distractions like crowd noise or loud music.
Being in the zone requires exuding a particular type of confidence that does not allow any fear of falling or failure to come into play and not being intimidated by other gymnasts or coaches.
Being in the zone means being so immersed in the skills and routine that a gymnast loses track of time, where they are, and the relative importance of the meet. It’s as if they and their environment are one.
For most athletes getting into the zone is an accidental process that may or may not happen sometimes and only lasts temporarily. That doesn’t mean you have no control over it.
You can improve your chances of getting into the zone by practicing your focus and concentration and attempting to get in the zone in practice. All of the elements including focus, being in the present moment, complete concentration on the skills and routine can allow a gymnast to increase their odds of getting in the zone and therefore of getting into the zone in meets.
The following process-oriented (as opposed to concentrating on what the results will be) steps you will want to take to increase your chances of getting in the zone.
- Focus only on one skill at a time and don’t think forward or backward in the routine.
- Focus on relevant metal and verbal (silent self-talk) cues.
- Avoid focus on any distractions.
- Avoid focus on worry that you won’t perform correctly.
- Focus on all actions (skills) as you ideally want them to be.
- Be and act confident, aggressive and decisive and avoid feelings of fear and indecision.
- Commit completely to performing all skills, with no hesitation.
- Be completely in the moment.
- Control the pace of your thinking processes to exactly match the pace of the routine.
- When doing floor, allow the music to control the movement of your body.
- On the other events, control the pace of your thoughts and body to the natural rhythm of the skills.
- Allow no other extraneous thought processes between the thought of the skill you are dong and the actual physical execution of the skill.
- Allow yourself no thoughts about what kind of scores or criticism or praise that you will receive after the routine.
- To increase your chances of getting in the zone, practice with distractions and train yourself to force them from your mind.
It is important to not try to force yourself into the zone. Being in the zone means doing without trying. If you try to force it, you are likely to end up performing poorly. If you get into the process of what you’re doing, and let the results take care of themselves, then you have an excellent chance of getting into the zone.
And being in the zone can allow you that rare but wonderful feeling of performing perfectly if only for one tumbling pass or one vault. Good luck on entering the gymnastics zone.