Being in The Zone

Marc V
I am supposed to be a wordsmith, but I am not sure I can adequately describe what I felt and did on the court this week! My young friend Marc VanDam and I played our usual “handicap singles” … where I spot him 24 years (!) and he gives me four points per set (that I can take one or two at a time, anytime I want). With that balancing act, the sets are usually pretty close – but he has been winning lately.

Even though I had a 5-3 lead, he won the first set 7-5. But after about two games of the second set, everything changed!

If you are a regular reader, you know my favorite tennis book is Jeff Greenwald’s small paperback on “fearless tennis” (“The Best Tennis of Your Life… 50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance”). I have read it several times and recently bought and listened to the companion CD several times.

In it, he preaches “focus on the process, not on the results.” In other words, concentrate on hitting the ball and playing the next point; and don’t worry about the “consequences” of losing the point, game, or match. And take physical actions to block out those ‘results’ thoughts to improve your now focus.

Well, in the beginning of that second set, I said to myself, “Just play this next point.” And pushed the game score out of my mind. And like magic, I was hitting the ball freely, hard, and in good locations.

In the middle of the set, we had perhaps the best point we ever played together… about an 18-20 ball rally that saw me driving the ball corner to corner; and speedy Marc retrieving ball after ball.

Toward the end of the set, we crossed over (after I had broken his serve at 15) and admitted that I did not know what the game score was! He told me that I was leading 5-2 and still had several handicap points in the bank.

I again pushed the score out of my mind and focused on “the next point.” I won the first two and stood at the line to serve; and he asked, “don’t you want to take your handicap points and win?”

I responded, “NO! I am having too much fun (and never even thought about having them).”

I crushed the ball on the next two rallies and closed it out serving a love game. Playing perhaps the best sequence of eight-ten points in a row that I have ever played in my life!

I can try to describe what it felt like to stand over the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time or how the feeling you will have for your grandkids is a “different kind of love” … but until you experience them and being in the zone for yourself, you will not fully comprehend what my words really mean.

Now, as Greenwald’s book says, the trick is to remember and duplicate that focus and that feeling other times on the court.

3 thoughts on “Being in The Zone

  1. Well done, George. I’ve seen and played you enough to see just how you would find that space. Jeff Greenwald, BTW, is a friend of mine and very insightful.

    To me, though, I don’t believe in pursuing the zone. For that too can be an outcome, a desire rather than a process.

    I believe in the grub, in sticking your butt into the arena and simply taking care of all those little things comprise craftsmanship and devotion.
    – And I’m not just talking here about tennis.

    My problem with certain aspects of tennis psychology is that they only focus on finding the proper emotional space to perform — all that talk about relaxation, concentration, etc.
    – What’s neglected is the problem-solving dimension. Yes, don’t get too concerned about score shaping your fears… but gosh darn it, the plan of attack, the window of risk-doubt and so on… it’s a lot different at 2-2, 40-love than 2-2, 15-30… and so on and on and on… that stuff to me is really the thick literature of the game.

    Sounds to me also like you’ve no need for handicap points against your pal. Just play for real, take your lumps and lessons… as only you can. For you have the devotion.

    Joel – tks for the “thoughtfull” response. Funny, i had the same concern about the extreme focus… that it took me out of thinking about ‘what is happening?’ and what i should be doing about it. geo

  2. In my native tongue we say “he played the stars right out of the sky” and that’s what George did.

    Looking forward to our next match.

  3. Actually fellas my experience tells me that I concur with both of you. Fundamentally, I believe Joel is very correct when he points out that searching for the zone is an endless journey. The zone just happens. I’ve found that when I decrease my score consciousness, and really just focus on breathing and the ball itself it seems I have had my most frequent relationships with the zone. Where I disagree slightly with Joel is that he seems to differentiate the problem solving aspect of our game from being “in the zone.” To me one of the coolest parts of being “itz” is the improvement I see in that said aspect of the game. My problem solving as well as my performance BOTH improve when I’m in it. Here is where I agree with Joel. George, YOU SHOULD NOT BE GETTING POINTS FROM ANYBODY!!!!!!

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