In the zone: A ping pong story
We have talked about being in flow, or being in the zone quite often before. Those moments where time stands still, self-consciousness diminishes, and concentration heightens. The greatest sports moments you can remember, have more than likely a flow state behind the victory or performance. But this story is not about winning the world cup, or beating someone in the Wimbledon final. It actually happened in a recreational table tennis tournament when I was about 13 years old! The point being, flow can happen to anyone with the right preparation, and with the right mindset. I have had some rare moments in my sport career where everything just clicked, as if I was playing instinctively, but this was my first flow experience in sport, so it was quite a revelation, and worthy of putting under the sport psychology lens. So let's give you a little background leading up to this memorable moment (at least for me):
It was a summer camp ping pong tournament where I found myself in the final playing against no other than my best friend. The match was not going well for me to say the least, as I was not only down 1 set, but also 10 points to which my opponent had only 1 point left to win the game, and the tournament. So that means to even have a chance at a comeback, I had to win at least 10 points in a row, without making any mistake. Quite the task I'd say!
All but down and out, I had two ways of reacting to this situation: Call it a day and let my opponent win, or try my best to go out with some pride. With my opponent being my best friend, whom I have had a competitive history, failure was not really an option! So, I chose to stick it out and hope for the best. And here we begin to enter the zone..
High concentration with a touch of not caring..
With nothing to lose, I decided to just play it point by point. Hyper-focus, with a small dose of not caring was the key here. I told myself, let's just try and win the next point, nothing else. He was the one with something to lose here, and knowing him from childhood I knew he was already focused on the celebration. I'll spare you the exciting play by play of these two 13 year old ping pong prodigies (ha ha), but point by point I found myself getting closer to being even. 8 points to go, 6 points to go... My opponent was starting to get visibly nervous and made more and more mistakes. As for me, I just stuck to the game plan; focus on the point in front of you. My mouth was shut the entire set. I was definitely in the zone at this point.
Me in the zone. Not really, but I am sure it looked something like this!
20-19.. I was one point away from doing the impossible. My opponent was distraught at allowing me to comeback. "Can I actually do this?", I thought, but quickly reminded myself to get back to the present. My best friend makes another unforced error, and the comeback is complete. 20-20... The crowd goes wild! (In my head..). The next two points go to me, and I somehow manage to win that set despite being 10 points back a mere 10 minutes beforehand. I regroup, and get myself back in the zone for the final set. Big breath. At this point my opponent's mind has gone adrift, to the negative rumination of how he could of let me come back. Sticking with the plan, I end up winning the final set, and ultimately the tournament.
Breaking it down
I remember the win to this day. It wasn't some sort of grandiose tournament or event, but it woke me up to the notion that we are in control of our thoughts and feelings, and despite not being able to control how our opponent plays, or how the game goes, we can choose how to react to these types of adversities. If we remain present, and focus on the process, and not the outcome, the success will follow. At the end of the day, that's the only thing within our control, and the present moment is where all our actions arrive from. I always say "don't be there, where you are not". In other words, be here and now! We can see similar stories in many athletes, where they were all but written off, but somehow found it within themselves to come back. Now I am not saying I am an elite athlete here, but I do know that you are in control of how you react to things. As captain Jack Sparrow says: "The problem is not the problem. Your reaction to the problem is the problem!"
Stay in flow my friends!