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What Is The Art Of Zen and How Does It Affect Athletic Performance?

Nov 25, 2019


By Jim Dabney

What Is The Art Of Zen and How Does It Affect Athletic Performance?

Legendary coach Phil Jackson, who coached Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, talked about the “art of Zen” and how important it was for his players to utilize it. The “art of Zen” is a connection that comes from inside an athlete and reflects externally through performance. As coaches and athletes, it is important that we experiment with our own performances, focus, and life in this zen mindset so that we can learn about potential experiences and hopefully positive outcomes.

At the University of Tennessee, my swim coach and sports psychologist helped me to use my feelings and intuitions paired with simple connections, to perform better within the races I competed in. As a sprint freestyler, it was all about balancing a calm mind while firing type II muscle fibers within my stroke to connect and generate speed in the water. However, this was often easier said than done. During my athletic career, I wish I had a stronger connection with the art of Zen perspective, and now in the coaching world, I seek to help my athletes achieve this on the road to reaching their full potential.

As a coach, I instruct the athletes I work with on learning how to let go of thoughts surrounding the final outcome of competition. Unfortunately, the thrill and excitement of competition make this notion one of the most difficult things to grasp for young athletes. A unique way to think about this mindset is to “become your performance” by being so connected to the experience that you are inseparable from what you are doing. As ultimately our final goal is to achieve a pure connection to the process of competition.

It is important to nurture the growth of the zen connection by practicing it every day. By learning to perform without overthinking the execution of a task, we also learn to trust our body and intuition which leads to the final destination. I encourage all athletes to do this during practice on a daily basis because it plays a key role in performance within any competition.

You may catch people saying expressions such as “be in the moment,” or “be fully present,” or “be in the zone.” But what does this mean? The truth is that it can mean different things for different people in all types of contexts, cultures and languages. We are taught from a very young age to think before taking action; however, to achieve the art of Zen, one has to un-train the mind to think while in overdrive about the outcome of actions.

“Childlikeness has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness. When this is attained, man does his great works. He thinks yet he does not think.” – Daisetz T. Suzuki.

Transcending this technique requires an athlete to free their mind and body and allow them to react naturally. This means that they must forget about striving for victory, showing off new skills, or the desire to outperform a particular opponent. Rather the key to success is doing what their intuition tells them to do, in each moment, consistently, throughout the competition without passing judgment along the way.

Let us teach our athletes how to SHOW UP with pure focus so they can enter the “Zen Zone” and reach their potential when it is time to compete!

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