Upon reflection of my time playing volleyball in high school, I realize there are two ways by which I remember the experience. One side was excitement, fun, camaraderie, and other pleasant things. The other side was exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety.
In a game, my mindset was either completely controlled by my focus on the game, where I was led by instinct and love for what I was doing, or it was controlled by my constant and overwhelming presence of mind…a state where I watched myself go through every motion of a play, concerned with letting my teammates down. That state was stressful and made me perform badly. The fear and stress broke my focus and made it impossible for me to find myself able to access and play “in the zone.”
According to BrianMac Sports Coach:
“Research shows that skill, passion and immersion equal peak performance – the ultimate experience of which is the flow state or sporting zone. Action and awareness merge when the athlete becomes totally absorbed in what they are doing – when they have the skills to meet the challenge and focus all of their attention on the task at hand.”
I have talked a lot about finding a “place of zen” in this blog. I believe we all have one-or even multiple-areas of interest that bring us peace and relaxation. I think sports are a fantastic place to look for this place of zen. Being involved in a sport not only enables you to exercise and work-out in a fun way, but it can also bring you to that place of focus and immersion that helps us to escape our anxious minds. However, remember that anxiety and over-thinking I mentioned earlier, which I dealt with when I played volleyball? That does the opposite of what we want to get out of playing a sport.
What we need to do is find a way to bring zen and athleticism together so as to make playing sports focus on the peaceful sporting zone, which makes sports so physically and mentally beneficial to us.
BrianMac presents the Tai Chi practice of Zazen as a solution to help combine zen and sports.
In sports, we tend to view the body, breath, and mind separately, but in Zen they come together naturally as one reality. By concentrating on the breath you are empowering yourself with the ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there, for as long as you want it there. By disciplined training, the mind can be re-programmed to acknowledge distractions, whether internal (anxiety, fear of failure, pressure of expectations) or from the environment (crowd noise, other competitors, weather conditions) – without holding on to them or paying them any attention. –BrianMac
Zazen trains you to completely focus your attention on breath, like meditation, with the long-term goal of being more at peace with the world and being able to focus on the task at hand, such as playing volleyball, soccer, tennis, etc. It’s recommended that an athlete go through the Zazen steps before games to make it easier for the athlete to find themselves immersed in “the zone.”
For specific instructions, follow this link.
To join a sports team you do not have to be in high school, still able to run up the stairs without gasping for breath, or a division one college athlete. There are intramural and casual sports leagues everywhere. If all else fails, get your friends together and decide on a time and place to meet a few times a month to play. It’s basically summer now, which means it’s the perfect time to jump back into a beloved sport or to try a new one.
Yes, it can be nerve-wracking, the fear of embarrassing yourself or losing a game. But the saying is true, it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun. I encourage you to try Zazen to truly get the most out of your sporting escapades. Zazen’s focus on breath and relaxation is good for any situation, not just sports.
I remember the feeling of being completely and utterly in the sporting zone, with nothing but my instinct and excitement for the game controlling my actions. My experience playing in high school would have been all positive memories if I had better control of my ability to find and stay “in the zone.”