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“In basketball - as in life - true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way. Of course, it's no accident that things are more likely to go your way when you stop worrying about whether you're going to win or lose and focus your full attention on what's happening right this moment.” Phil Jackson

This state that’s summed up so perfectly by Phil Jackson is not some elusive state that’s only tested by few elite professional basketball players who give off a sense that this is some innate talent. In more cases than not, these players consistently perform at their optimal.  Why? because they purposefully practice getting into what is known as the Flow State or as you may have heard it called, The Zone in basketball.

Some may confuse getting into the zone with memorizing the plays or spending hours of practice. Sure, this is a path that must be walked. But, where are you during these practices? Are you as Phil Jackson said; “focus your full attention on what's happening right this moment.”  Or are you shooting hoops wondering what your friends are doing or thinking what you’re doing after practice?

“Everything just slows downs, you have supreme confidence. You get into the zone and just try and stay there. You don’t think of your surroundings. Everything becomes invisible.  You're kind of locked in”   Kobe Bryant.

The Zone is often described as the feeling of invincibility, where time slows down and the multitude of noise from the crowd, court, players all blur into one sound. This results in a razor focus on the game. Being in the zone allows the players to achieve their best performance on the court. The vast majority of Basketball players have different ways to get themselves into the zone, but very few are successfully consistent at hacking into it. The Zone is the same as what Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘The Flow State’. His terminology comes from years of research on top performances from a multitude of disciplines. The word Flow was consistently used to describe how it felt when in the Zone.

Before I jump into the main part, I’m gonna explain the 8 Common elements when experiencing the flow state by Csikszentmihalyi:

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1. Immediate Feedback

When you’re in the zone, your mind and body give feedback to your actions immediately. As soon as you have the opportunity to shot the ball or drive to the basket you’ll go for it directly and without hesitation. You won’t see anyone guarding you since your mind and body already knows what to do and where to go. The flow state allows you to react immediately because your mind is clear.

2. There is no fear of failure

A person in the zone won’t hesitate because he/she is afraid to fail. Other players might be better than you in shooting or they might be bigger and taller than you. These factors will put the sense of failure to others, but these won’t matter when you’re in the flow state. While you dribble the basketball, you don’t let failure get in your head, you go for it and make the basket. All the worries you have in failing will disappear in the flow state. It gives you the confidence to give your best performance.

3. Your activities becomes autotelic

Most people play basketball just because they love it. While in the zone, the more you play the more it becomes fulfilling for yourself. This fulfillment is not about fame or money but something inside us. It gives satisfaction to what you’ve worked on the basketball court and the hours you spent at practice.

4. Your concentration is at its peak

We experience distractions not only physically but also mentally. These happen a lot on the basketball court, the noise of the audience, the intimidating players, or other teams taking the lead. All of these can get in our heads and affect our concentration. In the zone, our concentration is at its peak, our focus is on our actions and winning the game. It won’t matter how good the player guarding you when you’re in the zone distraction won’t matter. Concentration allows us total awareness of our skills and actions.

5. The balance between challenge and skills

When the game is too easy, a player might not give the best of his/her abilities; if it’s too challenging his/her skill might not be enough. In the zone, you’ll experience the balance between challenge and skills. The game will not be boring and not too difficult when you’re in the zone. This will allow you to use the peak of your abilities whether it's handling the ball or guarding the other play. The balance gives you the best opportunity to have fun in playing but you take it seriously because it challenges you. Flow occurs between “too much” and “too little" in any sport, activity, or situation.

6. Effortlessness

Under the flow state, you are much more flexible and relax. Others may see a player in court looking tired, but they don’t realize he/she is in the zone. Your mind and body are in a harmony in the flow state, the strain of the game won’t affect you. Your actions will not require too much effort and you do it smoothly. Decision-making is also effortless in the flow state. You can make decisions in seconds even if the game is hard.

7. Altered state of time

Time seems to slow down in the flow state or it could go fast. You might not notice you’ve been on the court the whole game. When the time comes for you to make the crucial game-winning shot time slows down allowing you to be completely aware of the situation. The perception of time is altered when you’re in the flow state.

8. Clarity of goals

In the flow state, you can see your goals clearly even if the situation is hazy. You are in control of your mind and body, therefore, you know exactly know what to do in the situation. When your teammate passes you the ball, you already know what to do. There will be no hesitation on your part because you focus on your goal.

“When you’re in that zone there’s nothing really the defense can do… It doesn’t matter who’s stick you because everything looks good.” Gilbert Arenas

In the NBA, legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson were taught the art of mindfulness by author George Mumford. He may not be as famous as them but, George helped them achieved championships. A calm and clear mind is important not only for players but also for coaches to get themselves together and enter the zone in unity. George helped Phil Jackson with the idea of “five fingers, one breath, and one mind.”  As you begin to be mindful, you let go of your ego and distractions, and entering the zone can become automatic.

Meditation is one strong method to develop mindfulness. After Phil Jackson’s stint with the Chicago Bulls, he went to Los Angeles to coach the Lakers. George Mumford also went to the Lakers, where he then taught Kobe Bryant the art of meditation. As the NBA’s greatest player, Kobe is one of the best examples of a player who enters the zone and wins not only games but championships. Meditating clears your mind from all the noise and you can focus on entering the zone.

The NBA can throw a lot of distractions and stress to players and coaches, so developing the ability to trigger a group flow in the Zone is the secret weapon to success.

Mindfulness has helped Kobe, Jordan, and Phil Jackson win championships in the NBA. They can get into the zone in the most crucial of games because they practice mindfulness. The ability to be in the zone is through consistent, purposeful mental and physical training with the intention to be in the Flow State/The Zone.

Here are the 7 Tips to Enter the Zone in Basketball

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1. Training

Wisely pushing yourself in physical training and practice games weeks prior to the game is essential. Psychological toughness is important but physical training allows you to improve your skills on the court. If your abilities on the basketball court have been tested and practiced, you’ll be more confident mentally to be the best player. Consistent training and improvement will boost your mental resilience allowing you to be a well-versed player. You’ll feel more confident removing doubts and uncertainties about your performance with the ball and on the court.

2. Get a motto

If you have a motto for yourself, or you need to get one, repeating it before the game starts or when you’re in the court to assist you to feel more confident and stronger. Quotes or slogans from the best players in basketball are okay, in the NBA, coach Doc Rivers adopted “Mental Toughness” as his motto. You can also create your own motto or memorize words that hype you and gives you self-confidence.

3. Relax

Allow yourself time to relax before the game. A player is usually hyper and anxious and it can affect your performance when you’re on the court. Meditate, listen to music, or a quick nap before the game starts helps your mind get into the zone and relaxes your body before you step in court.

4. Visualize

Picture yourself playing in your best form and scoring the winning shot in the game. Visualization allows you to plan ahead on how to react to certain plays and difficulties. While you're in the court, visualization also helps you maintain muscle memory that improves the speed of your reflexes and makes critical decisions. Practice visualizing during practices, before the start, and during timeouts in the game.

5. Forgive yourself

It’s normal to make mistakes; even the greatest basketball players cannot complete the play or miss the shot. Your confidence can be affected if you allow your failures to stay inside your head. Learn from your mistakes and move on and finish the game. Failures are lessons that make great players.

6. Be Autotelic

Phil Jackson hinted at being autotelic with his quote at the beginning  “stop worrying about whether you're going to win or lose and focus your full attention on what's happening right this moment.”  Being autotelic means to do something simply because you love it,  not for the potential reward. The goal for playing basketball is a reward in itself.  Autotelic comes from the Greek words, autos meaning self, and telos meaning goal.

7. Conduct Mindfulness Meditations

There are plenty of basketball players who practiced meditation before and after the game to enter the zone. In fact, meditation is one of elite athlete’s hidden techniques for optimum performance. Meditation allows you to conquer the most common ‘blind spots’ that tend to hinder sports performance. By practicing physical and mental meditations, you can be able to deactivate certain parts of your brain. The result is an improved ability to  activate your subconscious  and enter the zone where “Everything just slows downs, you have supreme confidence”

A study recently published by Fadel Zeiden found that as little as 4 days of meditation gives significant improvements in mood, stress levels, deep cognitive processing,  efficiency,  working memory, long-term memory, and improvement of sustained attention. Zeiden used a 20min meditation to attain these results. So by incorporating meditation into your training does not need to be time-consuming and overwhelming. But the results will open the door of your potential to enter the Zone and trigger the flow.

Check out and hack the flow state aka the Zone in basketball using the courses I am giving you for free! This is packed with tutorials, physical and mental meditations.

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