Content by TIM GOODENOUGH  (Derby and Pressure Matches & Lessons of 2009

Why get into the zone?

This is VITAL if you want to perform at your best every game. It takes practice but once you have the mental abilities to control your mind and enter the ZONE at will,the possibilities are endless, you will then be able to become the best that you possibly can be.

In its simplest form – getting into the zone for a match is a 3 step process, with an optional fourth step.

Clear away non-match day related thoughts to get into the moment, forget things that have happened during the week leading up to the game, and let go of what will happen after the game. Focus on the now … now. As Murray Mexted says, “Focus on less.”

Get into your best mood to play. Traditionally this is done by Sports Psychs by managing the arousal level through things like visualisation, breathing, music, calm/excited behaviour. Mike Cooper and I like to manage this through the meaning of the game first – ie, ensure the meaning creates the optimum arousal level for the player. Some players need a high arousal level and others need a low arousal level, we talk about high and low tension athletes – which is pretty much the same thing, although our method to get there is different.

We believe by managing the meaning that creates arousal first, we have a much stronger leverage point to manage game moment arousal through physiological means. Untrained arousal levels don’t remain constant, however with training and highly developed mental skills they can stay at the optimum level for longer and longer periods.

Find out the level of your rugby player (or yourself) by asking where he would plot himself as he thinks about the game upcoming game.

If too high, add lower intensity meanings (Eg, its just a game), if too low, add higher intensity meanings (This is our trial run for the final!). Once this is done, on game day we teach the player to manage his own arousal on a physiological basis. Eg. Breathing, visualisation etc to stay as close to that optimum as possible.

Optimal zone

Mental/physiological warmup. Start playing your “skill movies” the movies that you have agonised over the detail in creating. These movies include all your senses (including sense of balance/body and sense of space) in the appropriate specific order needed for that skill. Although they may have taken up to 20/30 minutes each to create, you can play them in a few seconds and get the benefit of a mental warmup for your skills.

For example: Skill movie for head-on tackle:

Space: My opponent is no more than 10 metres directly in front of me

Body: I point my right arm at shoulder height forward (without tensing my shoulder) at the opposite player and extend my index finger, whilst forming a loose fist with the rest of the fingers of my right hand
Hearing: I hear myself shouting “my man” in a clear loud confident voice
Eyes: My eyes focus on the chest area of my opponent, If I see the ball move more than 1.5 metres to the left or the right of the opponent (beyond arms reach) then I will shift my eyes to the next target andHear myself shouting “shifting out” in a clear loud voice that is slightly (-2db) louder than the “my man” voice
Body: I feel my legs making short (30cm smaller than my standard walking stride)powerful strides (my power comes from my core muscles that I have pulled in towards my stomach and which engages my hip flexors and tenses my quads similar to the feeling of wading through waist high sea water) towards my opponent

Optional ‘game plan/strategy’ movie. Play short ‘action’ moments of the upcoming game that you have prepared in similar fashion to step three in relation to strategy or game plan, to give you that extra edge.

For training there is an important step between step ONE and TWO. Make sure that you have the appropriate meaning to get the most that you can out of the session, be that Pilates, Gym, Fitness or any other type of session. E.g. “IF I do this 100% then I am one step closer to my goal, when my opponents are losing form, focus or concentration I am getting better!


You guys need to mentally pre pare yourselves before you get onto the field. If you are too psyched up or you are too relaxed you may not be in best psychological state for the match, which means you won’t play as well. You need to take time before EVERY practice session and try to figure out what works for you. If you are a psyched up player try find another player like yourself and practice psyching yourselves up before contact at practice. If you like a calm environment before a match take a quite time out mentally preparing yourself for the practice. Other guys must realise that everyone is different, so if you see a guy chilling it does not mean he is not amped for the game all it means is that he is focusing. Give everyone in the team their own space to get mentally ready, if you don’t he could play badly and you then could lose the game because of it.

Pre-Match Nerves:
Being nervous before a game is a good thing, as it builds up your adrenaline levels, however you can become too nervous and that impacts on your energy levels hugely. If you suffer from serious nerves before a game there are some ways to help this. Firstly you need to relax. Not too relaxed though, but you need to breathe nice and slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Close your eyes if you want. Use the visualising techniques and think of the game and you doing things well. For example if your scared of the first tackle, just visualise yourself making the perfect tackle and you will find you should be more confident.

Just remember that if you have prepared as well as possible before each match, just tell yourself over and over that you are prepared and you have the skills to do well. You need to find the confidence inside you, just concentrate and think of a game you really played well in and tell yourself you are good enough.

If you are scared of the other team because of size or reputation ask yourself these questions:

1) Who is expected to win?
If they are a team that is expected to win, think to yourself aren’t they under way more pressure to perform than us? So what opportunities does that give you and the team? They will not be expecting you to fight back and try to win the game so you may find that they will be unsure of what to do next. [1]

2) Think about what you believe they look like.
You will probably think they are these huge guys with muscles.

Once you have done that DOUBLE their size in your mind. You will probably think of these massive monster humans ready to crush the life out of you. Think about how this effects you.

Now HALF their original size in your mind. You may think of them even smaller than you. Think about how easy they will be to beat at that size. Think about how this effects you.

You should be able realise by now that you can change what your mind believes.You can then think of them as a size you feel you can manage. You should feel better and more confident to take them on now [2]

3) Think about how you will feel after you have won the game.
Vividly imagine walking off the pitch after the game having won, the feeling, the smell of the jersey, the sounds of the cheers, the looks on their team-mates faces. Think about the joy you will feel and the feeling of knowing you have given absolutely everything to the winning cause. [3]

Follow these and you should be able to calm down and become mentally prepared.

**If you are interested in this topic and want to read it up further then I suggest you read Tim’s book called IN THE ZONE and RAISING TALENT. Both are fantastic books that helps you train your mind to get into the zone whenever you want to…. Try them out.