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Comfort Zone Traps for Athletes

“Comfort Zones.”

The phrase can have slightly different meanings in different contexts.

“Get out of your comfort zone,” is a common mantra, to help push you to do experience something different than from situations in which you may already be accustomed.

As a cog in the corporate world, it may mean reaching and actively seeking out new people to engage with at your next Chamber networking event, instead of talking to the same three people every time.

Personally, it may mean trying a new hobby that you have always wanted to but never did, because it was too much out of your normal routine.

For an athlete, the comfort zone is also a place that we need to be aware of and work your way out of as quickly as you can.

What is the comfort zone for an athlete?

It can be seen in a few different situations.

The most common is the “prevent defense” philosophy. How many times, when watching our favorite football team, do we see our team go into the proverbial Prevent Defense mode later in a game when winning by a comfortable margin? How many times does that backfire, or at least get close to backfiring?

The team has been playing with intensity, focus, sticking to their game plan that has been working all game, then, when having the lead late, they move away from all of those, get back on their heels and let the other team dictate the action. Sometimes they survive, and other times they do not.

Why does that happen? They got comfortable. “We got this.” They let up on their intensity and focus and figure that we just need to stay back, coast a bit, relax (too much, I might add) and we’ll be fine. They get comfortable with that lead.

Here’s another example -

A golfer normally shoots around 80 on the golf course. As you play in your tournament on a particular Saturday, you turn the corner after nine and see that you are three under par. Three under! The golfer starts to get too caught up in the outcome and starts to play in what would be typically called the “prevent defense” of golf. You get a little more conservative on your shots. You get a little more tentative on swings. Essentially what you are doing is protecting your lead. Comfort zone.

Why? Because if you are three under at nine, guess what, all I have to play is even par on the back nine and I finish under par for the round!

Getting comfortable with the lead tends to instigate a less focused, less intense, too relaxed mind set that is the definition of comfort zone.

The last example of comfort zone are opposite sides of the same issue.

We overlook the opponent, because they are not at talented, their record is nowhere near mine (ours), so we (I) should destroy them today. We lose focus, intensity, and maybe even do not prepare as hard. This is fertile ground for an upset.

The opposite of that is also true. This player on the other side of me on the tennis court is going to destroy me. This is going to be bad. This mindset, also, can lead to losing focus (I’m going to get pounded anyway), not playing as intensely (what’s the difference if I lose 6-0 or 6-2), that lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy of predicting your demise. It also robs you of the opportunity to perhaps pull the upset off yourself.

One of the most important skills an athlete can have in their mental performance tool kit is awareness. Awareness of when you might be thinking in a comfort zone mentality can go a long way to helping stop it, regroup and refocus on the task at end.

It could be in your preparation. Yes, the opponent you face may not be that good. However, as an athlete with awareness, maybe you can catch yourself slacking off in practice, regroup and refocus on prepping for that opponent the same as you would for any other that you face.

Yes, I am playing better than I have had in the past. What can that mean? For one, that can mean that I actually have more in me than I might have been showing. Secondly, it also means that I am having a great day today and I am going to keep focused on the process, my game plan, and staying in the present moment. This thinking can be translated as keeping my “foot on the gas pedal,” all the way through the entire competition.

Comfort zones – They are what the phrase says, comfortable. But for an athlete save that for the end of the competition, when you can feel good about the effort, focus and intensity you put in throughout your play that day, not during it.

Get out of that comfort zone!

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