• Athletes In The Zone


In a project that included athletes from the European Ryder Cup team and athletes from a professional football team, we examined the subjective experience of precognitions (the ability to sense the future) purported by four elite golfers and four elite football players. An open-ended, semi-structured phenomenological interview was used to gain a description of their experiences. Thematic analysis of transcripts describing their experiences resulted in the identification of five major themes associated with intuition in this context. These were “clutch situations,” “emotionally arousing stimuli,” “pre-feeling,” “self-talk,” and “prospective imagery”.

The findings of this study suggest precognitions transpire when elite golfers have to make a putt or a shot, or an elite football player has to score a goal or make a tackle, in an emotionally arousing situation, such as when the consequences of failure are high. In other words, precognitions occur when a golfer or football player is exposed to a clutch situation similar to those described by Darren Hibbs of Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale. Self-talk also appeared to be coupled with the precognition effect. In this study, self-talk appears to help the athlete’s “psych” themselves up, control arousal, direct effort, and focus their attention on the task in hand. In other words, self-talk has both a motivational and instructional function. The presence of self-talk during pre-cognition experiences suggests attention, intention, and emotions appear to be important mediators of the precognition effect. Experiments reported by Institute of Noetic Sciences parapsychologist Dean Radin and Cornell University social psychologist Darryl Bem also support this view.

The athletes also reported a positive prospective image (future-orientated image). Specifically, the golfers reported they had an image of the ball going into the hole and a pre-feeling of something improbable was about to happen. The football players reported an image of scoring a goal, making a tackle, and a pre-feeling that was described as strange and unique. Both prospective imagery and pre-feelings (gut feelings) were involuntary, suggesting these automatic thoughts are emerging from the unconscious mind.

Pre-feelings are strongly linked to our anticipatory systems of motor control. Anticipation is one of the principal characteristics of human performance. Indeed, the ability to anticipate a future event separates the good athletes from the elite. In basketball, for example, anticipation in the form of a pre-feeling is needed to predict when it is the right time to “reach and jump” to block the opponent’s shot. Anticipation in the form of a pre-feelings also allows basketball athletes to hit and catch objects moving faster than they can see. This infers athletes need a pre-feeling to predict “what will happen next” to know “what to do next.”

The Origin of Pre-Feelings

More research is required to understand where pre-feelings come from. Are pre-feelings anticipatory responses that originate from our memory, or do they involve genuine influences from the future? The possibility that pre-feelings derive from information that comes from the future appears to many as absurd. However, discoveries in quantum physics and human consciousness suggest this proposition may be possible. Indeed, we now know that the world is not simply a deterministic mechanism; foundational equations of quantum physics not only support the common sense notion that time flows forwards, but it also highlights the possibility that time may also go backward. In other words, in quantum theory, the future and the past may affect the present and information from the past, present, and future coexist. Erwin Schrödinger’s non-linear equation supports this proposition. “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” he wrote in 1955.

We believe expert athletes receive information from the future because they shut down the conscious mind and utilize the unconscious/quantum mind to process information. The act of shutting down conscious processing gives athletes access to what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, which is a storehouse of absolute knowledge.

According to Jung, the collective unconscious is dominated by non-linear temporality. The lack of non-linear time means knowledge from the past, present, and future coexist and can be accessed simultaneously. We suggest that during optimal performance athletes enter a trance like state known as flow and at some stage of the flow state, the athlete has temporary access to absolute knowledge that emerges from the mind as it interacts with the collective unconscious. This produces a situation where the limits of time and space are transcended. In this realm, information can materialize from the past, present, or the future, enabling athletes to initiate creative acts and respond to sensory information with superfast thinking. This enables athletes to think faster, adapt faster, and be in the right place at the right time. For support of this proposition let’s go back to Wayne Gretsky’s statement: “I just go to where the puck is going to be.” Gretsky knows where the puck is going to be because he is receiving information about the future.

The overall findings of our studies are interesting because they support the idea that precognitions are real events and that elite athletes may unconsciously respond to information beyond the reach of their normal senses.

The results of our findings also suggest that intuition requires greater attention and investigation from the sports psychology community. It is our sincere wish that this study will inspire other researchers to investigate the role of intuition in sport.

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