Playing in the zone is considered the Holy Grail of sports. It is also one of sport's greatest mysteries. The human peak experience manifested on the field of competition. We also call it flow, and it transports us out of our ordinary performance state into the territory of the extraordinary. But what makes the zone so extraordinary? What is it about this mysterious flow state that takes us beyond our normal performance experience? Certainly, we must be doing something radically different that causes flow to happen. And yet, whatever it is that we are doing differently when we are in the zone must also be so subtle as to go unnoticed and yet so profound that it creates this extraordinary performance reality called flow, or the peak performance state, or the ideal performance state, or simply the zone. But whatever name you give it, if you’ve ever experienced the zone, and you probably have, then you have been a part of something truly extraordinary: the co-creation of a wholly new and higher-order reality.
When you think about it, that’s huge!
But the big question with flow is how do you do it? And then how do you reproduce it again and again and again? Therein lies the mystery of the zone. How did something so extraordinary come about in the first place? What part did you play in the co-creation of this peak performance experience? It’s as if the zone drops in on you for no apparent reason, hangs around for a while as you play your socks off, and then, just as suddenly as the zone appeared, appears, it leaves you in its wake, wondering what the heck just happened and how can I make it happen again?
So you go out the next day expecting the zone to return, and guess what? No zone. No peak performance state. No flow. Just you playing in your ordinary performance state. Just you, playing in the norm. Maybe you play a little better one day, not so hot the next. You experience the range of ups and downs you’re familiar with, but nothing compares to that day when you were in the zone. If only you could reproduce the zone at will. If only you could get in the zone on purpose. If only you could co-create a higher-order reality of flow by choice instead of waiting around for it to happen by chance.l
if only… right? It’s like that unspoken word sitting at the tip of your tongue. You know it’s there; you just can’t seem to access it. Same thing with the zone. You know it’s there because you’ve experienced it, but you just can’t seem to access it, and the more you try, the farther away it gets. Pretty soon, the zone becomes a distant memory. The extraordinary that was you settles back into the world of the ordinary, and playing in the zone becomes as elusive as the Holy Grail.
But what if you could learn to get in the zone on purpose? What if you could learn to intentionally transform your performance reality? Would you do it? Would you go through the transformative learning process required if you knew the end-result would be the ability to consciously transform your performance reality? To consciously co-create the reality of the zone every time you played the game?
The perspective of the Conventional Stage of coaching consciousness says the zone can be neither taught nor learned. Basically, you can’t get in the zone on purpose. But as the Integral Stage of coaching consciousness emerges, so too does its radically new perspective, a perspective that says, yes you can! Yes, indeed, you can intentionally co-create the higher-order reality of flow in sports, and integral coaches are currently modeling transformative practices that not only better define the structure of flow reality but also better define flow’s spatiotemporal process. In other words, integral coaching is taking athletes and coaches out of the “no you can’t” mindset and into the mindset of “yes you can.”
Stay tuned as these integral, whole-person coaching practices make their way into the mainstream of sports and performance coaching. It’s happening fast, and it will change the face of athletic training just as it will change the face of consciousness training.