Every athlete strives to attain their "Ultimate Performance Zone." But what really is this Ultimate Performance Zone (UPZ) and how can an athlete achieve this state on a more consistent basis? I have called it the UPZ because this state varies for each individual and it is up to each athlete to identify their own UPZ through self - education.
As a professional athlete, I was aware of when I was in my Ultimate Performace Zone but being so young I didn't realise how I could control it and what the cues were that triggered these feelings. If an athlete could achieve their UPZ more often then their results would obviously improve.
As an athlete I always felt a notably different mental state when winning compared to when I was losing. I was also the only one who could alter this state. I knew that it could take only one "trigger" to send it in either direction. Consistency, maintaining routines and knowing the triggers for you are the keys to achieving your Ultimate Performance Zone.
It is the feeling of being on a roller coaster ride, experiencing the ups and downs in performance, which can be the most frustrating to an athlete. Just when you think that you are on your way to more consistent and successful results you have a let down. The great athletes learn how to limit their "downs" and keep their "ups" going.
When I was in my "UPZ" I experienced the following feelings and emotions:
I found that playing was effortless and that every thing just seemed to flow freely.
I had ample time to play my shots and the ball seemed to be moving more slowly even if it really wasn't.
It was all automatic and I didn't "overanalyse" the situation, I just let it happen!
I was having fun and really enjoyed the moment.
I was physically relaxed but also energised. I had the right balance of both.
I wasn't anxious and I didn't worry about the outcome and what would happen. Even though I needed every cent to survive at that stage of my career, it didn't cause me any concern.
I was calm and in control of every thing I did and said.
I was confident and my body language showed it!
Negative thoughts never entered my mind.
I loved performing for the people watching and felt a great sense of respect from all.
I was tuned in to the tactical ploys that were going on and was able to counter any new tactic thrown at me.
I was optimistic about my performance and the outcome of the match.
I never felt rushed and I played the match at my own pace. I was in control!
Knowing the feelings I experienced when in my Ultimate Performance Zone; the next key step for me was trying to attain these feelings every time I stepped onto the tennis court. I had to learn how to be in control of all of the components that made up my tennis game.
To Be in My UPZ I had to Take Care of all of the Following Six Areas:
I took care of the technical issues on the practice court by training with a coach or performing many drills that would work on that specific skill. If I walked onto the court not feeling 100% percent confident in all of my shots then I knew that I would always have something to worry about. Practice is for perfecting the skills required and competition is for allowing those skills to be executed automatically!
I had to be physically fit and injury free. I trained all of the specific fitness components required for my sport of tennis. I completed many hours working on agility, speed, endurance, flexibility, power, strength and my footwork involved in each stroke.
I had to be faster, stronger and fitter than my opponent. "To finish first, I had to first finish!"
I always had a game plan for each opponent. This required scouting my opponent in a match or having a coach or fellow team mate do that for me. From here I was able to go into the match with a game plan and therefore not be surprised by anything that was thrown at me. I also trained to excel in all areas of tennis and knew that I could serve and volley or play from the baseline if needed. I had many weapons to pull out in order to find out which one worked for me.
My pre-game routines helped me to mentally prepare for the match. Following these routines helped to deal with adverse crowds, adverse weather conditions, cheating opponents, and any other challenges.
Game Preparation and Management
This may be new for some to consider as one of the six factors in achieving the UPZ. However, it can often be the first step to being successful. Following pre-game routines, checking that all of your equipment is ready, eating well, knowing your match time and opponent, scheduling a practice court, knowing how long it takes to get to the tournament and so on all help to create that first step to achieving the UPZ for an athlete.
As a coach, furthering your education will only help your player or players get to be the best that they can be! You will find great satisfaction in knowing that you did everything you could in helping your athletes to get to the top and reach their full potential.
Off Court Personal Issues
This is one of the most neglected areas when it comes to maintaining consistency in your performances and results. If you are having personal problems off the playing field then you will not be able to achieve your Ultimate Performance Zone. An athlete's welfare is a major contributing factor towards being successful in the sporting world.
Identify Your Feelings and Emotions in Competition
After speaking to many athletes over the years I have found out that one of the best ways to achieve your Ultimate Performance Zone on a more consistent basis is to first remember how you felt and what your feelings were during your performances when you were in your UPZ.
When you identify these feelings and emotions you can begin to construct your own checklist and design routines and programs that will help you to achieve this playing state.
Common feelings and emotions from athletes when they were playing great: Playing felt automatic and instinctive, they had fun, were confident, in control of the game, were alert, energetic but in control, found that executing their sports skills seemed effortless, they felt strong, they were relaxed, focused on the task at hand, they were not distracted by personal life problems and they had low anxiety levels.
Common feelings and emotions from athletes when they were not playing well: They lacked confidence, they did not feel physically well, were easily distracted by other issues and events in their life, felt very anxious and uncomfortable, were slow in their reactions, no matter what they tried it never seemed to work, their opponents were in control, they felt physically overwhelmed in all areas, they became negative with self-talk and body language, it was not fun!
The first goal is to improve your sport specific skills by understanding how to achieve your UPZ, setting realistic goals for each match or game, learning how to best execute your skills when in a competitive situation, being in the best shape physically that you can be, being mentally in tune with what your body is telling you, plan ahead and be prepared for anything that may arise in competition, practise how you would play in competition, seek help and continuing education to improve your game, eliminating any negative or distracting factors that may hinder your performance.
One of the major keys to success is to not "over-analyse" what is wrong or what is right! When you are in your Ultimate Performance Zone you are on automatic and things just happen effortlessly. So sometimes thinking too much can affect you mentally and take you away from really being focused on your performance.
Every coach should know what the triggers are that help an athlete to achieve their Ultimate Performance Zone and what negative responses will hinder that athlete.