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The Zone

by Ben van Heuvelen

In the moment of competition, I like my brain to be functioning on approximately the level of a caveman chasing a woolly mammoth. The biggest motivation to help from the sideline is that the louder I yell, the more primordial I feel, and the better I play. It’s the best way for me to get in and stay in "the zone." 

Here is a great description of the zone, which I recently read in a novel: 

"She felt a special private connection with the basket, always knowing exactly where it was and always trusting that she was its favorite player on the floor, the best at feeding its circular mouth. Even off the court she existed in the zone, which felt like a kind of preoccupied pressure behind her eyebrows, an alert drowsiness or focused dumbness that persisted no matter what she was doing." 

This "focused dumbness" is the goal of my training. My hours spent throwing, running drills, and scrimmaging are all designed to teach my brain and muscles to respond instantly without thought. When I’m competing, my conscious mind can only get in the way and slow me down. This is what we mean when we tell our teammates, "Get out of your head," or, "Get into the game": Stop thinking; just do it. 

The most vulnerable time for players, psychologically speaking, is when we’re not playing. That’s when we have time to think. Joe Montana said, "As soon as you know you’re in the zone, you’re not in the zone." Why is that? Because the part of your brain that can make that kind of realization is not the caveman part of your brain. (Sure, it’s possible to be both a great player and a great thinker – but not simultaneously.) 

My goal on the sideline is to leave no room for reflective thought by focusing totally on the game. I talk with teammates about what they’ve been doing well or what we’re going to do next point to respond to our opponent’s tactics. I yell team cheers. I pick a teammate on the line and shout specific information throughout the point. ("Big thrower"; "not a thrower"; "disc is swinging"; "no huck"; "all underneath"; "left hand low"; "last back"; etc.) Halfway through the point, I usually get distracted by another teammate who needs a good bout of yelling and I get in his ear. 

I yell the most specific and concrete information possible. General encouragement is great ("keep working hard"), but my teammate is less likely to have his mark broken if I’m yelling "stay on your toes" or "rotate no around". Also, the more specific the information I yell, the more focused I have to be on the game. 

I try to yell only positive things. Any time I say something negative, even under my breath, I allow the thought to enter my mind that "things aren’t going well." It’s not long before that thought ruins the useful illusion – which is a big part of "the zone" – that my team and I are unstoppable. 

If I’m successful on the sidelines, when I step back on the line to play, it feels like I never left the game. In other words, I’m still "in my rhythm." I’m sure the sideline talk has also helped my teammates but the biggest benefit is my own. I get another shot at playing in the zone.

huddle issue030 Using The Sideline Voice

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Keep It Calm
by Jody Avirgan

Two Things Durings A Point
by Jeff Eastham-Anderson

Standardizing A Team Way Of Communicating
by Greg Husak

A Strong Sideline Voice
by Tyler Kinley

Tangible vs. Intangible
by Brett Matzuka

A Constant Stream Of Specific Information
by Colin McIntyre

Make It Useful
by Jim Parinella

Sharing The Work
by Logan Pendragon

Assisting The Visually Impaired
by Taylor Pope

It Takes Practice
by Moses Rifkin

Loud + Positive = Good
by Miranda Roth

Provide New Information and Reinforcement
by Shane Rubenfeld

The Zone
by Ben van Heuvelen




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