My attitude towards tennis has changed over the years.  I play the game now for one reason only and that reason is to get in the zone.  Playing tennis in the zone has become the journey and the destination for me, not because of the peak performance aspect of the zone, although that certainly enters into the equation, but more because of the transformation of consciousness that occurs when I shift into the zone.  Playing in my normal conscious state is no longer of any interest to me other than as a comparison to playing in a higher conscious state.  So my tennis practice has become a journey of higher consciousness, a journey of integral consciousness in which the game is the vehicle for the transformation out of my egoic self and into my Authentic Self; a vehicle for experiencing “presence” and all that goes along with that unified state.

The more time I spend in the zone, the more I develop this higher-order, Authentic Self, and it is the driving factor of my personal and professional life.  The difference between the egoic self of my normal performance state and the Authentic Self of my peak performance state is radical, not only in the difference I feel in my on-court performance – which is always better when I am in the zone – but also in the difference in my sense of self – which is always fuller and freer when I am in the zone.

Nothing is missing when I am in the zone.  I’m never searching for that elusive piece of the puzzle that will finally bring my game together into a functional whole.  My game feels whole when I am in the zone.  I feel whole when I am in the zone.  There is no separation between me and the game, no gap between subject and object, and that unified state of functional wholeness brings with it a sense of creative freedom in which I play the game fearlessly, without judgment or concern for the outcome.  There comes a deep sense of liberation in which I no longer worry about winning or losing; the simple purity of contact is enough for me, and that singular event of contact is the centerpiece of my mental and physical focus.  Not the ball, not my opponent, not my technique or my target, only the creation of contact at the exact point the ball first enters my contact zone. At that exact moment of contact, I feel completely connected to the game of tennis.  The whole of my being connected to the whole of the game, unified in that wholeness, my Authentic Self connected to the Authentic Game, nothing missing, fullness, completeness, oneness. 

I have come to know that oneness in my game and in my life.  It has not been an easy, overnight transformation for me.  In fact, it has been the most difficult road I have ever traveled.  The daily battle to detach from ego and develop my Authentic Self has been the hardest battle of my life, yet it has proven to be the battle for my life, my authentic life; a life that is free from the bondage and limitations of egoic self-consciousness.

I can only speak for myself, but I can say for certain that it has been a battle well worth fighting.  Who I am now is a far cry from who I was then, and I owe that transformation to the practice of playing tennis in the zone.  That’s all I did – every day, day-in and day-out.  All I did was get better at shifting into the zone, then get better at stabilizing the zone, and with that stabilization of my peak performance state came the simultaneous stabilization and development of integral consciousness and my Authentic Self.  In theory, it was that simple.  In practice, there was nothing simple about it.  Learning to get in the zone and then stay there is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  But it has also been the most revealing thing I have ever done.  Not only has it revealed who I really am and who I really can be as my Authentic Self, but as I continue the practice of playing in the zone, it continues to reveal an even deeper sense of self – my True Self, my Spiritual Self, my Eternal and Infinite Self, and what I have come to understand in the deepest reaches of my being is that not only am I one with the game of tennis when I am in the zone, but I am also one with God – whether I am in the zone or not!

I used to think that was crazy talk.  For me, God was always “out there” in some mysterious other world.  The spiritual dimension was always out there and I was always separate from its ultimate reality.  But as I continued playing tennis in the zone, as I became more and more familiar with my Authentic Self and being in the present, I slowly came to recognize the ever-present existence of an even deeper reality, a reality that was always there even though I had been ignoring it all my life.  And it was a reality that was always present whether I was in the zone or not.  It didn’t matter.  The ever-present nature of this deeper reality didn’t care if I was in the zone or in the norm.  It was okay with either performance state as if both performance states simply arose within its ever-present reality.

At first, I would only have short glimpses of this underlying reality, but those short glimpses kept happening, again and again, and it got to the point where I could not deny the existence of whatever that reality was.  And it wasn’t like, “Hi, I’m here, always here, what are you going to do about it?” It wasn’t that obvious.  I felt it more as an underlying calm amidst the storm of competition, a quiet beneath the noise of the game, tranquility beneath the turbulence, an emptiness in which the fullness of the game was played out.

And then the questions came.  What is this emptiness in which the fullness of the game plays out its moment-to-moment dance?  What is this tranquility beneath the turbulence, this quiet beneath the clamor of the game? And the biggest question of all: who is experiencing this peace and calm amidst the rapid-fire action that is tennis?  Who, exactly, am I when I am one with these radical opposites that are no longer in opposition?  Who am I at this deepest level of awareness where opposites merge and there is only the one, and I am one with that?

This experience of oneness, of wholeness, of unity, kept happening more frequently until I could no longer ignore it; only accept it for what it was, for what it is, and for its transcendent, ever-present presence.  Call it God. Call it Spirit. Call it Christ-Consciousness, Buddha Mind, Timeless Presence, the Big Empty. Call it what you will.  I call it the Spiritual Dimension of Tennis, and it is always there.  It was already there before I started playing the game, and it will always be there when I can play the game no more.  Always here, always now, and I have come to accept its ever-present embrace.  In fact, I embrace it in return, and I now know that at my deepest level, the level at which I experience the convergence of these opposites, where subject and object are not separate, not two.  At that level, I experience my own True Nature where God is no longer out there, but “in here,” in me, and I am one with God.  The practice of playing tennis in the zone has shown me that Oneness, and through a simple game of ball and stick, I have come to know that journey and destination are one, and in that Oneness, I am home.


Two characteristics of playing in the zone that are not mentioned in Sport Psychology's analysis of flow are freedom and fullness. The fullness that you feel when you are in the zone comes from the full potential connection between your sensorimotor operating system and the athletic environment. But in order for that full potential connection to occur, you must first shift out of your normal connection to the environment. Your normal connection is a serial connection in which your operating system interfaces with only half of the available information in the environment, the “form” half.

The important distinction between a serial mode of operation and a parallel mode of operation is that a serial mode connects you sequentially to the parts of the environment, to form while a parallel mode of operation connects you simultaneously to the whole of the environment: to form and empty space.

So instead of a partially potentiated interface in which your sensorimotor operating system is asymmetrically connected to form only, a parallel mode of operation co-creates a fully potentiated interface in which your sensorimotor operating system is symmetrically connected to form and empty space equally and simultaneously. And it is this fully potentiated interface between body-mind and the whole of the athletic environment that brings with it the feeling of fullness that comes when you are playing your sport in the zone.

A flow state is a fully potentiated performance state, a state of wholeness, of completeness, and flow can be experienced by anyone; skill has nothing to do with wholeness. Novice players can get in the zone and feel the same sense of fullness that experts feel when they are in the zone. Flow is not skill-dependent. You don’t have to be an expert to have a full-potential experience in your sport. You do, however, have to connect your body-mind to the full potential of your athletic environment. And with that fully potentiated connection comes the sense of fullness that can be experienced by novice and expert, young and old, in all sports, all countries and all cultures. The fullness of the zone is for everyone.

So is its freedom.

Fullness and freedom; freedom and fullness – the bookends of flow. The fullness comes from a fully potentiated interface between body-mind and athletic environment. The freedom comes from…from what? Where does the sense of freedom come from when you are in the zone? In order to experience a sense of freedom, you must have broken free from something. Something must have kept you from the freedom you feel when you are in the zone; a freedom that is absent when you are playing your sport in the norm. So the question is: what is present when you are playing your sport in the norm that is absent when you are playing your sport in the zone?

The answer is self-consciousness, ego. Your egoic self gets dumped on the sidelines when you shift into the zone. In fact, this loss of ego is perhaps the most difficult challenge we all face when it comes to playing in the zone, yet the loss of ego is mandatory to the co-creation of flow in any sport, and the sense of freedom you feel when you are in the zone is partially due to this loss of ego, which brings with it the awakening of your Authentic Self.

Freedom from your egoic self gives rise to the freedom of your Authentic Self. And it is your Authentic Self that rides this sense of freedom into new and different performance territories; territories of novelty and greater complexity that go unseen when your ego shackles you to the norm. Your Authentic Self is unbounded, open, free to roam these unknown territories, and, in so doing, to creatively advance, not only on the field of competition but also in the field of life.

But there is still more to this sense of freedom that comes when you are loosed from the bondage of ego, and it comes with the recognition of something deeper, something ever-present, something Absolute – the Absolute Freedom from which all things arise. You, the game you play, the competitive culture in which you play the game, as well as all the other games being played in all the other places in the world.

The manifest realm arises in and with the Absolute Freedom that transcends Space and Time because it has never entered into the stream of Space and Time. It is the Absolute Freedom of Spirit, of God, of Buddha-Mind, of Christ-Consciousness, Big Mind, the Big Empty.

Call it what you will, but athletes in any sport can experience this freedom in both its relative face: the freedom from ego, and its Absolute Face: the Freedom of Ever-Present Spirit.  Put them together, freedom and fullness, and you’ve got the zone’s extraordinary bookends.


There is a very simple way to differentiate between conventional and integral coaching programs. It is the inclusion or exclusion of the zone experience. Does your coaching program include performing in the zone, yes or no? A simple question, but one that upsets many coaches because it suggests that their approach to coaching is missing something, which it is, and there is no way for conventional coaches to reconcile the fact that their performance programs exclude the highest order performance experience known to coaching – the experience of performance in the zone.

You either coach it or you don't. Conventional coaches don't; integral coaches do. And if that sounds hierarchical, that's because it is. Growth and development are hierarchical. There’s no getting around that fact, but what we're talking about here is a "growth hierarchy" in coaching development, not a "dominator hierarchy" that says one coaching method is better than another. This is not a coaching contest; it's a signal that marks the emergence of a new coaching paradigm that is relational rather than mechanistic, nonlinear rather than linear, and the experience that marks the emergence of this relational coaching paradigm is the experience of the zone as well as the emergence of holistic, integral coaches who actually teach their athletes how to intentionally create the zone experience in their chosen sport.

This new wave of coaches is emerging all over the world, and these coaches have the zone experience as the centerpiece of their performance models. This does not diminish the importance of conventional and post-conventional coaching techniques, rather, integral coaching looks to include the best of all stages of coaching development while adding the zone experience to the mix. So integral coaching both includes and transcends previous stages of coaching development without negating or replacing them.

The evolution of coaching has always been an evolution of inclusion and transcendence. Conventional coaching includes and transcends pre-conventional coaching; post-conventional coaching includes and transcends conventional coaching; an integral coaching includes and transcends post-conventional coaching. So, yes, the evolution of coaching has always been that of a growth hierarchy, and that very growth hierarchy has been responsible for the creative advance of coaching into the novelty and the greater complexity that we see today. With that creative advance in coaching has come a simultaneous advance in sport itself. 21st-century sport is a far cry from 20th century sport and even farther from 19th century sport. The evolution of competitive consciousness has been part athlete and part coach in a dialectic relationship that leads ever onward in the pursuit of… of what? What is it that we pursue as athletes and coaches? What do we seek to find in this dialectic between player and coach?

One answer to that question is that we seek as athletes and coaches to find the Holy Grail of athletic performance: the peak performance state, flow, the zone. What higher goal is there for us to reach as athletes than the wholeness of our peak performance state? What higher goal as coaches than to coach our athletes to experience this athletic wholeness?

Wholeness has nothing to do with winning or losing, fame or glory. Wholeness has nothing to do with making money as a professional athlete; it has to do with peak human experience, a fully-potentiated connection between athlete and athletic environment; oneness with the whole. Both athletes and coaches have been searching for the secret to performance wholeness for as long as the human peak performance state has been recognized as "different" from our normal performance state. Those differences have been expertly analyzed and defined by conventional coaches and post-conventional sport psychologists in the hope that a better understanding of the component parts of wholeness would lead to the secret of how to produce it.

 It hasn't.

Scientific analysis of flow has heightened athlete’s and coach’s awareness of the flow state, but it has not revealed the underlying structure and process that produces the flow state. Nor will any "outside observation" of flow reveal its structure and process. That revelation only comes from an "inside observation." The zone’s structure and process are only revealed through the athlete's direct experience of that structure and process, and even then, it takes the continued manifestation of the zone's higher-order performance experience before the athlete will come to understand its underlying structure and process.

The emergence of integral coaching brings with it a relational approach to performance that not only defines the interior and exterior correlates of flow’s structure, but also defines the process of how you do it. That's a quantum leap in coaching development that does not deny the value of any prior stages of coaching development, but rather introduces athletes to the direct experience of the human peak performance state.

Where conventional, mechanistic coaching techniques stop at the zone, and where the psychological and energetic interventions of post-conventional coaching only prepare athletes for the zone, integral and holistic coaching practices embrace the zone as the centerpiece of their developmental process.

With conventional and post-conventional coaching, the process is all about “growing up,” but with integral coaching, the process includes “waking up.” The importance of flow is that it includes both growing up and waking up. The growing up part has to do with the development of your "game," while the waking up part has to do with the development of your "self." The two go together when you play your game in the zone. You can't have one without the other like you can when you play your game in the norm. Yes, your game will eventually grow up when you play it your normal performance state, but your egoic self remains in charge when you are in the norm, so the waking up part of the developmental process won’t happen.

It will, however, happen on those rare occasions when you unconsciously slip into the zone and awakened to your Authentic Self, but if that shift to your peak performance state only happens occasionally and for no apparent reason, then the development of your Authentic Self takes a backseat to the continued development of your ego.

True transformation comes when both growing up and waking up occur simultaneously, and that's what you get with playing in the zone. Your game develops faster when played in a state of flow no matter what your level of development, while simultaneously your Authentic Self is awakened, and with the continued practice of playing in the zone, your Authentic Self is stabilized and developed over time, giving you more than just a glimpse of who you really are as an athlete and human being.

Add to that the fact that the zone is neither race, creed, nor color dependent. Cultural differences have no place in the zone because the zone is not about how we humans are different, but rather about how we are the same. And it shows us how we are the same in the most powerful way possible – through direct experience. You have to experience it to understand it, and the system dynamics of how you go about co-creating the flow experience are the same for all of us. The zone is what makes us the same; the norm is what makes us different. One experience unifies us as human beings; the other experience separates us, divides us into parts competing against each other to claim some transient reward, while the other integrates us into an interplay of cooperative parts whose reward is a functioning whole.

As athletes of any kind we are first and foremost human beings. Sport brings us together. It always has. Sport in the zone brings us together at an even higher level of consciousness. A level of consciousness wherein the prize is not victory but rather wholeness; wholeness of performance and wholeness of being, and at this very moment in the evolution of consciousness, each of us as human beings has at our command the ability to experience the wholeness of who we are at whatever our stage of athletic development.  The wholeness of who we are right here, right now. We can experience that wholeness of being through playing our favorite sport in the zone.

Wholeness does not mean perfection. Wholeness does not mean winning, nor does it mean losing. Performance wholeness comes with a shift out of an asymmetrical interface with the sequential parts of the athletic environment and into a symmetrical interface with the simultaneous whole of that same athletic environment. Only when you are connected to the whole of the athletic environment, it is no longer the same athletic environment, nor are you the same athlete. Both you and the athletic environment have changed; you by shifting into your full potential mode of sensorimotor operation, and the environment by revealing to you the full potential of its moment-to-moment wholeness.

That's the zone. That's flow. More exactly, it’s you as a human being in a one-to-one interface with the flowing present; you as co-creator of a state of wholeness between you and your athletic environment. It might be novice wholeness, it might be recreational wholeness, it might even be elite or professional wholeness; it doesn't matter. Wholeness is wholeness, and we as human beings have come to a point in our evolution in which we are not only able to reflect on this full potential wholeness, but we can also experience its higher-order reality; a higher-order reality that we co-create.

That's how we get in the zone; we co-create it. And whether we co-create it by chance or by choice, the results are the same: the experience of wholeness. Right here, right now.


Photo by OSTILL/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by OSTILL/iStock / Getty Images

The consciousness of flow coaching has a direct effect on the consciousness of competition, and what occurs with flow coaching is that the objective of what is being coached changes as the coach’s consciousness changes, and that change is from a coaching objective of winning to a coaching objective of transformation. As woo-woo as that sounds to conventional coaches, there is one thing about flow coaching that is anything but woo-woo. When athletes compete in the zone, they win more often than when they compete in the norm. So the conventional coaching objective of winning is already baked into the cake that is flow coaching.

But there is more to this transformation than just a transformation in competitive performance. There is also a deeper transformation of self that occurs when you get in the zone, and that is the transformation out of ego and into the Authentic Self. Integral, flow coaching  starts with this awakening of the athlete’s Authentic Self through coaching practices that teach athletes how to intentionally co-create the flow experience, then how to maintain and stabilize flow’s underlying structure and process, and, in so doing, how to maintain and stabilize the Authentic Self during practice and then during competition.

Winning takes a back seat to the transformation that lies at the heart of flow coaching and competitive consciousness. Athletes still win, mind you, and they win more often when they compete in the zone, but with the shift into the zone’s integral consciousness comes a new perspective on competition as well as a new perspective on who you are as competitor and human being.

Competition becomes a practice in which and by which your Authentic Self is stabilized and developed. And with the stabilization of the Authentic Self, your egoic self is steadily destabilized and seen objectively from the perspective of your new competitive subject – your Authentic Self. 

Thus the transformation of self begins with the intentional co-creation of flow where your Authentic Self is developed in a fast-moving, problem-solving, and decision-making athletic environment that mirrors the fast-moving, problem-solving, decision-making environment of your daily life. It would make sense that if we can perform at a higher level in athletic competition by competing in the zone, then would we not perform at a higher level in life’s daily competitions if we also performed in the zone?

Here again, the notion of living life in a flow state seems totally woo-woo to conventional consciousness, never mind coaching consciousness. But with each peak experience in sport comes the awakening of the Authentic Self and a more inclusive and expansive perspective of reality. The problem is that these peak experiences are random, fleeting, at best, transitory.

But what if those peak experiences could occur more often and be stabilized over time? What if you could actually learn to co-create those peak experiences at will, intentionally? What then? Would you want to learn how to do just that? Would you want to learn how to co-create the zone at will?

You’d think people would jump at the chance to experience this radically different state of being, and you would be partially correct. Some people would look into it as something to stop the boredom they feel with their everyday lives; others would think you are full of crap; just another new-age, self-helper with fancy talk and big hair. But some, especially athletes and coaches, are looking for new and different techniques that will help them get in the zone as competitors and teach the zone as coaches.

That’s the trajectory of coaching and competitive evolution. Flow by choice, not by chance. Again, some will think it’s woo-woo, while others will see it as new and different coaching consciousness that may or may not fit into their coaching program. But some, those who are looking for something a little deeper and more substantial, will see the transformative nature of integral coaching and competitive consciousness as the leading edge of sports evolution.

Post-conventional and millennial coaches are primary candidates for making the leap to integral coaching practices. Some are already there, but most are still sloshing around through the muck and mire of conventional linear mechanism, looking to escape its relentless cage of serial thinking. These millennial coaches are open to integral coaching methodologies as well as the radical shift in objective and perspective that comes with integral coaching and competitive consciousness.

If there is a target audience for integral coaching, I don’t think it’s the coaches at the conventional stage of development. Too much time spent in the box makes outside-the-box approaches a waste of everybody's time. Leave conventional coaches alone and look to post-conventional and millennial coaches who already have one foot outside the box and are looking for a reason to extricate the other. Coaching their athletes to compete in the zone is a powerful reason to step outside the box, and maybe, just maybe, it’s the most powerful reason of all.