Master The Five Pillars of Athletic Mental Toughness, Part 4: Getting In the Zone

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Mental toughness is critical for success in sports, and how you develop your mind will directly impact how well you play your sport—for better or worse.

In part four of the "Five Pillars of Mental Toughness," we discuss how you can become tougher by getting "in the zone."

To achieve athletic success, you must learn ways to calm down when you're nervous (high arousal) and to pump yourself up when you're bored and flat (low arousal).

Athletes who learn how to control their arousal to certain stimuli are able to get in the zone on a more regular basis. Try to think of arousal along a straight line, with high arousal on one end (think of responding to a fire alarm) and low arousal on the other (think about how you feel right before you drift off to sleep at night).

New York Mets players perform a dynamic warm-up.

Performing a dynamic warm-up will help you get pumped and in the zone before a game.

The "zone" is known as the optimal arousal zone, describing a state when your mind and body are in synchrony. Athletes who are in the zone don't have to think when playing their sport. They simply react.

Improve your ability to get in the zone by learning how to modify human arousal and to find a happy medium between high and low arousal.

Calming Down

Practice deep belly breathing. Take two or three deep breaths into your stomach and hold each one for four to five seconds. Deep breathing is the best way to calm nerves and lower arousal.

Use imagery to think about positive, calming thoughts. To maximize the experience, make your images real, vivid and controllable.

Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with one muscle group, tense and relax just those muscles for four to five seconds. Go through the rest of your body using the same tense/relax technique. You will feel your body's arousal level decrease.

Pumping Up

Listen to upbeat music. It will help you get pumped up on days when you're not quite as energized as you normally are.

Perform a dynamic warm-up. As you start to move around, you increase your heart rate and prepare your body for game time.

Review your personal goals. Thinking about what you want to accomplish will generate excitement about fulfilling those goals.

Dr. Chris Stankovich is a licensed professional clinical counselor and the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, a counseling and performance center based in Columbus, Ohio. He offers performance-enhancement assistance to athletes, teams and coaches in areas of athletic improvement, wellness, leadership, life skills and career development. Learn more about Dr. Stankovich's work by visiting his website,

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock