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  • Writer's pictureAthletes In The Zone


Updated: Aug 11, 2021

We have spent most of our time gathering knowledge from phenomenological semi-structured interviews with coaches and athletes. Over the years we have talked to many of elite athletes. During the interview process, we will always ask the following phenomenological question; “Tell me about the best performance in your sport.” Their response is usually a vivid recall of an important, significant event. However, when asked to elaborate and describe their subjective experiences during the event, there is often a delay in responding or a complete and utter blank.

Athletes struggle with this question because during peak performances they often enter an altered state of mind the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow. During flow, the athlete becomes so absorbed by the moment and task at hand that they lose their awareness of self. In this state of mind, the brain is not in its usual wakeful condition because it has entered the realm of the unconscious. In this altered state of mind, athletes perceive their “will” to be in control of their performance. In other words, they perceive what they want to happen does happen. This creates feelings of confidence and happiness and being in control. Time distortions such as tachypsychia often emerge from the experience. The athletes in a flow state may also experience spiritual transcendence and the loss of self-consciousness.

The strange happenings of the flow state experience can be explained using theories allied with quantum physics. Time distortions, for example, can be explained by the fact time in the quantum world of the unconscious mind is non-linear. Additionally, the loss of self-consciousness can be explained by the absence of awareness and the failure of quantum collapse. When this takes place, the unconscious mind becomes operational. In the absence of conscious awareness, the athlete relies upon his/her instincts and intuition.

Reports from Elite Athletes

Intuition is key to understanding optimal performance in sport. Reports from elite athletes support this supposition. Researchers Michael Murphy and Rhea A. White cite numerous cases where athletes rely on intuition to achieve excellence in sport.For example, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Lou Brock who broke the “all-time” stolen-base record in 1977 was cited as a player who emphasized intuition rather than physical qualities as the reason he was so good at stealing bases. In another example, Cleveland Brown fullback Jim Brown reported he “had a sixth sense that told him how the defense would react.” When hockey great Wayne Gretzky was asked for the secret to his suc- cess, he replied, “I don’t know; I just go to where the puck is going to be.”After the 2019 NBA finals Kawhi Leonard was interviewed by Issah Thomas about the strategies he used in the game. He replied: “You have to stay in the moment. When you start thinking too much, you don’t play well. It’s about reaching and reading and using my instinct to play basketball. I feel that’s how you get into the zone. That’s how you can hit ten shots in a row or your team does.”

Additionally, in a private conversation with Gabriel Batistuta, Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorer told me: “When coaches give me instructions on how to play, I can- not score goals because the information they provide me stops me from reacting quickly enough to get rid of the defenders. I score goals when I use memories of how I play as a child. As a child I would not think about strategies or tactics, I would just run into spaces based on my intuition and gut feelings. I just knew exactly where I should run when I followed my feelings, I would then score for fun because I would always find myself a step ahead of the defenders.”

Based upon anecdotal evidence, it is reasonable to assume the intellect of an athlete can be understood by appreciating its dependence upon the intuitional wisdom of the inner self. Unfortunately, empirical data supporting this proposition is absent from the sport psychology literature. Intuition’s close association with psi phenomena and paranormal experiences have meant intuition has been overlooked by sport psychology as a construct of interest. We aimed to address this problem by examining the intuitive abilities (precognitions) of professional golfers and professional football players.

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