In The Zone

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					In the Zone

Vicki Nilles
Educational Consultant
What percentage of your athletic
performance is due to physical
What percentage of your athletic
performance is due to mental
“You have to train your mind like
you train your body” Bruce Jenner
“The mind is a powerful thing and
most people don’t use it properly”
Mark McGuire
“When you have fun, it changes all
the pressure into pleasure”
Ken Griffey Sr. & Ken Griffey Jr.
The Joy of Victory…
The agony of defeat!
Joy and Agony Prompt Similar
    Physiological Responses
The Agony of Defeat!
   The physiological impact of stress
   Stress is present at various levels
    Lower levels help us attend to task –
      higher levels impede ability to focus and

   Stress is triggered by primitive call to survive
   Severe stress activates an emergence phase
    known as fight or flight response

   Stress invokes a complex physiological reaction
    which prompts resources to mobilize the body &
Physiological Reaction
   Extreme levels of stress call into action the
    body’s most powerful hormones and
     epinephrine   & adrenalin

   The amygdala acts as the brains panic
    button and sets off chain reaction to
    possible threat (the threat can be real or
    simply perceived)
   The amygdala assigns intensity to the
    incoming information

   The amygdala attaches to many parts of
    the brain including the prefrontal cortex
Limbic System
    Prefrontal Cortex

   Executive Functioning
     Learning    occurs here
        Ability for athletes to learn and master a new skill
        Ability for athletes to execute skill previously

     Higher    level thought processing
          Ability to make and act on decisions…any
Prefrontal Cortex Development
The prefrontal cortex is thought to
be fully developed by age 25!
What do high levels of stress and learning a
new skill or executing a mastered skill have
in common?
 Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer (age 72)
         ALCS Game 3, 2003
Absolutely nothing!!!
The cerebellum
   A small densely packed part of the brain which contains
    half of the total nerve cells in the entire brain and is
    involved in integrating sensory and automatic motor

   Constantly updating and computing incoming and
    outgoing information

   Involved in maintaining rhythm and continuity for many
    brain functions such as emotions, memory, language,
    and social interactions

   Referred to as the center for rhythm and blues
   Know your neurotransmitters…It’s
   All About Communication

Think of the brain as about one hundred billion neurons that are
trying to chat with one another but they need special chemicals in
order to be able to get good “reception”. Those chemicals are
known as neurotransmitters.
Meet the Special Three
(Feel Good Neurotransmitters)
   Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine

   They are known as regulators of the signaling
    process and of everything else the brain does!!

   Psychiatry focuses on these three

 Policeman    of the brain- keeps brain activity under

 Influences
           mood, impulsivity, anger, and
 aggressiveness; anxiety

 Aids   in the digestive process

 Serotonin drugs such as Prozac help modify runaway
 brain activity that may lead to depression, anxiety, and

 First
      neurotransmitter studied to
  understand mood

 Amplifies  signals that influence
  attention, perception, motivation,
  and arousal

 Activates   the sympathetic nervous
    (automatic nervous system)
 Thought of as the learning

 Vital to:
    Movement
    Motivation
    Pleasure
    Addiction
    Cognition
Being in the Zone…Mindfulness
   The production of feel good
    neurotransmitters sets the
    stage for getting into the
    zone and staying there!
Beware of the Joy of Victory!
   “Extreme” joy has negative impact on
    prefrontal cortex and executive functioning

   There is such a thing as good stress but it
    has very similar response to bad stress

   Keep a balance – keep it in the zone
A Tiger’s Prowess
Tiger’s Story
   Tiger started using mental training procedures at the age
    of 10 when he started hypnotherapy

   Visual imagery and controlled breathing were a major
    part of his early training

   These strategies aided his ability to control his thoughts
    and his stress effectively
The early training paid off as Tiger now has
the “perfect athletic brain”.

   A recent study was conducted and determined that Tiger
    has the “perfect athletic brain”

   This was done using an EKG monitor while Tiger was
    putting and it was determined that Tiger’s heart rate was
    equivalent to that of someone entering a sleep state
    allowing for complete prefrontal execution

   They also determined this “perfect state of mind” based on
    the number of blinks Tiger implemented over a specific
    time span as well as his respiratory rate
“The biggest thing is to have a mind-set and
a belief you can win with every tournament
going in” Tiger Woods
   Tiger won the 2008 US
    Open without having
    actually completed 18
    holes in four months due
    to knee surgery

   This was due to his
    mental training and
    visualization techniques
This Stuff Works for Everyone…Even
the Navy Seals!
Typical Seals Training
   Training at Navy Diving and Salvage training center, Panama City,
    Florida used to determine who will be able to accomplish extremely
    dangerous underwater missions

   With hands and feet tied and a dive mask strap in their mouths,
    sailors are dumped into Olympic-sized pool and told to “stay afloat
    and live”

   The initial instinct is to fight and struggle to stay on top of the water
    and grasp for air

   Sailors passed out from lack of oxygen and had to be revived

   They were then immediately asked if they wanted to quit and if
    answering yes, they were immediately expelled from the program
Strategies Used by Successful Seal Candidates

   Set specific goal prior to the drill – some as simplistic as survive
    and live

   Used visual imagery – created visual image of being able to
    complete the drill and successfully get to the surface for air

   Positive self-talk – they used from 3-1000 words to positively talk
    themselves through the drill constantly restating, “I can do this”

   Controlled breathing – they figured out that if they exhaled all of
    their air they would make it to the bottom of the pool and be able to
    kick off to surface for air
      This breathing technique allowed for controlled frontal cortex
        execution as it prevented the normal “fight or flight” physiological
Top Ten Plays to Peak
    10) Breathe Through It
“You have to learn how to get comfortable
  with being uncomfortable” (Lou Pinella)

   Oxygen is energy. It helps relax muscles and
    clears the mind.

   Deep breathing, from the abdominal area as opposed to
    chest, brings down rapid heart rate and counteracts effects
    of neurochemicals produced by stress.
“We all choke. Winners know how to handle
choking better than losers” (McEnroe)
   Choking is a natural physiological
    Reaction to a perceived threat

   Breathing allows the athlete to move
    through the surge of neurochemicals

   Pattern of breathing effects pattern of

   Deep breathing helps bring your mind and
    body back into the present
9) Be in the Here and Now
   Being in the present, in sports, means no

   Anxieties are created by worrying about the
    future or dwelling on the past

   When you are a playing your game right on time,
    in the present, you perform your best (Mack,
   If a baseball player
    comes to the plate
    thinking about his last
    strike out or says to
    himself, “If I don’t start
    hitting, I will be on the
    bench soon”, he isn’t
    playing in the present
    but rather dwelling on
    the past and worrying
    about the future.
How to stay in present moment:
   Be aware of your breathing
     Count your breaths to stay in present moment
        One, two, three…

   Create a ritual to put you in present moment
     Cubs  player symbolized items of regular clothing as
      distractions from normal life

     As he disrobed to put on uniform, he envisioned each
      item as something related to a personal distraction

     As he put on each uniform item he had shed all
      personal distractions and was ready to play in present
8) Focus on the Positive
   See yourself as a success
     Focus   on what “to do” rather than “not to do”
     Utilize positive self talk, “I can do this!”
     Create a focus word that prompts positive visual
          Think of a relaxing, calming word or place
 Golfer, Tommy Bolt,
  known for throwing fits and
  clubs had to change his
  thinking. He started by
  saying to himself, “Don’t
  hit the ball in the water…”
  and later changed it to,
  “Land the ball ten yards to
  the right of the pin”.

Tell the mind what to do!
    7) See it!
   Visual Imagery
     Visual mental imaging & visual
      perception share the same
      processing system in the brain.
      There is primary visual cortex involvement
      in visual imagery. That means the brain creates
      actual neural pathways which makes the brain
      believe that it has already achieved the specific
      task that it is creating via visual imagery.
Using Visual Imagery
   There is no one correct way of using visual imagery

   Visual techniques can be short or long in duration

   Techniques should be used at least 3 times weekly for
    optimum results

   These techniques can be done before the athletic event,
    during practice, and / or during the actual event

   There is no right or wrong place or time to visualize
Everyone should use this for
everything they do!
Where’s mom?
All Elite Athletes Do It
   Steve Carlton, pitcher for the
    Phillies, likes to lay down in the
    locker room and close his eyes.
    His teammates think he’s
    sleeping but he is actually
    thinking about and visualizing the
    lanes in the strike zone. He
    thinks about the outer lane and
    the inner lane. He doesn’t think
    about anything over the middle
    and by not thinking about it he
    gets himself working that way.
       Mack, 2001
 Noland Ryan describes his visual imagery routine.
“The night before a game I lie down, close my eyes, relax my
  body, and prepare myself for the game. I go through the entire
  lineup of the other team, one batter at a time. I visualize exactly
  how I am going to pitch to each hitter and I see and feel myself
  throwing exactly the pitches that I want to throw. Before I ever
  begin to warm up at the ballpark, I’ve faced all of the
  opposition’s hitters four times and I’ve gotten my body ready for
  exactly what it is I want it to do”.
     And of course, Tiger! Excerpts from his golf

   I'm RECORDING every visual cue I can IN MY MIND from what I’m reading on the green (the GLOBAL

   Followed by ZOOMING in now that I’ve taken in the general conditions.....the ZOOM lens tells me
    EXACTLY what I see the ball’s gonna do, the line it’s going to take, the exact point where it’s going to
    break, blah, blah, blah...

   Then I set my LENS SPEED in my mind, so I know the exact tempo for my putting stroke.

   Followed by PRE-RECORDING the shot in my mind......I SEE the putt leave my putter and actually travel to
    the hole, I see what part of the hole it’ll drop in,

   Followed by RECORDING the whole sequence AGAIN in my mind, everything in slow motion, stopping the
    tape if I see something’s not right,

   Followed by RECORDING the whole deal again in my mind....(so I’m picky, so what?) It's not like the
    networks are gonna break for commercial at this point.....

   swinging!.....the deeper you get into the virtual warm up, the more your muscles are actually going through
    the same sequence they would in reality.
Research Support
   Ohio State Basketball Team
    3   month study with 3 teams
            Team 1 shot free throws one hour daily
            Team 2 thought about shooting free throws one hour daily
            Team 3 visualized ball going through hoop from foul line

            Results: Team 3, the team using visualization techniques
             showed increased accuracy of 23% while team 1 showed only
             24% increase
Visualization for Baseball
   Dr. Bill Harrison (2009) works with major
    league teams and players as well as
    university and college teams

   According to Dr. Harrison the first
    consideration with baseball players needs
    to be overall visual health
     Visualacuity
     Contrast sensitivity
     Binocularity-most important
          Depth perception
Remarkable Eyesight
   Barry Bonds is the only major league
    player to score 100% on all visual tests
Next Step – Visualization techniques
   Visual memory and visual projection skills are

   Combined these comprise visual thinking skills

   Great binocularity combined with visual thinking
    skills is the optimum level of development
Visual Memory & Visual Projection
   Utilizing the visual system to develop visual
    pictures in the mind

   Visual memory = past experiences

   Visual projection = future experiences

   Requires athletes to take time to visualize in
    their minds what they will do before they actually
    do it in practices or games with visual memory or
    Redwood High School Baseball
   Had the team sit under a tree prior to
    practice and close their eyes and mentally
    visualize how the practice would go as he
    described what was about to take place. It
    only took five minutes each day
    Visual keys to great hitting!
   You want hitters to visualize in their minds, a
    series of high quality at bats they have had in the
    past off right-handers or left-handers

   When players visualize like this before practice or
    games they are in the zone before they walk on
    to the field

   Athletes report feeling calm and focused after
    performing these activities
Techniques continued:
   Slow down the ball

     Mark   the ball (stickers, paint spots, paint half of ball)

     Encourage   players to watch the ball all the way in to
      the bat (watch the markings if helpful)

     Ask  players after each hit, “How well did you see the

     Always   have two batters in as they take pitches and
      watch pitches coming into plate (standing on either
      side of the plate)
Techniques continued:
   Live pitching best for visual skill
     Live   pitchers from about 40-50 ft.

     Use high velocity pitching stations on regular
      basis as this puts players in visual state of
      mind where things are happening quickly thus
      creating realistic game situation

     Ping  pong, raquetball, and handball are good
      examples of visual off-season training
Techniques continued:
   Use smaller balls for pitching machines such as plastic
    golf balls for sharper visual acuity

   Play the game of pepper as it requires good bat dexterity
    along with good fielding skills

   Four station hitting drill
       1. a hitter 2. soft toss flipper 3. fielder 120 ft. away & 4. fielder
        250 ft. away
       4 hitters – separated 40 ft. apart & spread out between left field
        foul pole & 3rd
       Purpose is to drive ball through one of the two outfielders
            Players were asked after the ball was hit…how did the ball fly? This
             activity helped the batter know whether he was getting topspin or
             backspin. This is a mechanical as well as visual technique.
    Track pitches deep into strike zone!
   Follow the ball all the way to point
    of contact

   Some researchers believe that is
    not possible to track ball within 6-
    10 feet of contact

   Dr. Harrison reiterates that in
    understanding vision, it is
    understood that you can follow the
    ball all the way into point of
    contact and this is a skill that must
    be learned and many players
    don’t even try to do it.
6) Flush It!

   Get rid of the negative immediately!

   Remove self-defeating thoughts
     Fear, anger, anxiety, self-consciousness,
      perfectionism, stubbornness, lack of
      motivation, competitiveness, distractions
5) Keep Moving
   Cerebellar stimulation      Keeping athletes
    means dopamine,              warmed up physically
    serotonin, and               and mentally is key to
    norepinephrine               peak performance
    4) Turn On the Tunes
   Listening to music that you like is a
    natural producer of dopamine and serotonin in
    the brain

   Many professional athletes use music as an
    emotional motivator to prepare for a race

   Many see this as an important ritual
    (superstition) in preparation for important
    athletic event

   Michael Phelps uses music by rapper Lil
    Wayne to prepare before every race
Coaches Use Music to Train
   Pitching coach, Anthony DeCicco, at Fordham
    University uses Ipod playlists to improve the
    performance of pitchers

   He used this method to control heart rate
    elevation of one pitcher and segmentation of
    Where does the music come into play?
   He had players create a playlist of their ten
    favorite songs

   He asked them to listen to ipods while warming
    up before bullpen

   The results following this activity were that both
    pitchers had marked improvement in rhythmic
    execution of the pitch and increased ability to
    throw the ball with less effort
Wait, there’s more!
   Integrated use of Ipod into bullpen
     One  of the pitchers listened to the playlist while in the
      bullpen and the other did not

     Pitcher listening while pitching had marked positive
      results and won competitive bullpen while the other had
      only mediocre results
Great, now what?
   Can’t have players listening while really playing
    a game so they worked with pitchers to try and
    memorize the music and to call that up,
    mentally, while pitching

   The results of the players listening to and
    singing the music were lowered heart rates and
    increased rhythmic execution
The pitchers themselves reported:

   The music gave them an inner timing
    mechanism to help them release the ball
    out in front
“The use of music allows the athlete to
relax and be himself. This technique
from a coaching standpoint allows me
to observe the state that each of our
pitchers is in on the mound in a precise
     DeCicco (2009)
3) Try Easier
   Sports glorify strength when in actuality muscles
    aren’t everything and over-trying leads to

   Trying harder, which is what athletes do when
    they tense up, usually leads to

   Over-tightening muscles to produce power
    actually creates a loss of power and accuracy
   When Ken Griffey Jr. steps to the plate, he relies
    on leverage, flexibility, and range of motion
    rather than strength. “I’m not that strong. I only
    bench about 200 pounds. I don’t consider myself
    a home run hitter but when I’m seeing the ball
    and hitting hard, it will go out of the park”.
   Remember to relax your body and mind and try a little bit

   Do this by practicing your breathing, remaining focused, and
    being in the here and now.

   Nolan Ryan’s longevity as baseball’s strike out king is due to
    his ability to throw hard but not to overthrow. “The tendency of a
    fastball pitcher is to muscle up and he ends up tensing up and
    losing his rhythm. Everybody has limits and you just have to
    know your limits and deal with them accordingly”
           Nolan Ryan
2) Mental Toughness
   Competitive
       Competitors find a way to win. They take bad breaks and use
        them to drive themselves harder.
   Confident
       Confident athletes have a can-do attitude and belief that they
        can handle anything that comes their way.
   Controlled
       Successful athletes control emotions and behaviors and focus
        on what they can control as opposed to what they can’t.
   Committed
       Mentally tough athletes focus their time and energy on their
        goals. They are self-directed and highly motivated.
   Courageous
       Mentally tough athletes must be willing to take a risk. It takes
        courage to grow up and achieve your full potential.
1) Know Your Zone…and Stay
 Performance Peak Chart
 Coaches:
     Know   the athletes
     Help them determine ideal numbers-optimum
      level of performance which depends on:
       Temperament
       Length of event

       Nature of task
Important considerations:
   Length of entire game (2-3 hours)

   Difference of positions must be considered

   Chart can be used as athlete’s self

   Ongoing assessment and control of
    personal stress levels
Common Denominators
Golfing great, Arnold Palmer, kept this saying in his
locker and read it before every event:
If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think that you dare not, you don’t
If you’d like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t

If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man; But sooner or later who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
 Mack, Gary (2001). Mind Gym: An
  Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence
 Ratey, John (2008). Spark
 Harrison, Bill (2009) Vision Therapy and
 Hallowell, Edward (2005) Delivered From

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