Everyone in tennis knows “the zone” exists, but very few people seem to think the zone is worth investigating beyond a cursory glance. Sound biomechanics are so much easier to study than the vagaries of the zone, so the only studies we see on the zone are studies that deal with the biophysiology of peak performance, which are usually studies of things like heart rate, oxygen intake, etc. of a premier athlete. The assumption being that premier athletes get into the zone therefore if you can monitor their heart rate and oxygen intake, etc. you will find the secret to getting into the zone.
This is not going to get science to the secret of the human peak performance state. The secret has been kept secret because it deals with something you cannot see – and possibly cannot measure with today’s instruments. The secret of the human peak performance state lies in the interface between the human VCM operating system and the environment in which it operates.
The overall system dynamics of a serial mode/serial interface versus the overall system dynamics of a parallel mode/parallel interface. That’s the difference between the human normal performance state and the human peak performance state. The human operating system in a serial mode/serial interface is the human operating system in its normal performance state, while the same human operating system in a parallel mode/parallel interface is the same human operating system in its peak performance state.
Looking for the answers to why the peak performance state is so elusive and difficult to reproduce has led me on an adventure of self-awareness and understanding far beyond what could be attained through a search for sound biomechanics or the perfect strokes. Peak performance is about so much more than sound biomechanics; in fact, it’s not even about sound biomechanics at all. Players with biomechanically unsound strokes can still experience their peak performance state. The zone is about being in the present and you don’t have to be biomechanically sound to be in the present. You just have to be willing to let go of the past, and letting go of the past has nothing to do with your strokes. Instead, letting go of the past and getting into the present has everything to do with your focus – both visual and mental.
This is not to say that I am against good strokes and biomechanically sound patterns on the court. I’m a USPTA Pro through-and-through when it comes to teaching biomechanically sound strokes. But when it comes to teaching players how to get into their peak performance state, how to get into the zone, I stop teaching strokes and start teaching focus.
But here’s the difference: that does not mean I teach players how to better focus on the ball. If better focus on the ball was the key to getting into the zone, then we’d have known about it long before now. In terms of the temporal relativity of the contact sequence, closer focus on the ball means closer focus on the past, so teaching players to focus better on the ball – while a logical approach to focus – is teaching them how to focus better on the past. In other words, teaching players to better focus on the ball is teaching them how to better play tennis in the past, not how to play tennis in the present.
And if you want to get into the zone, you have to first get into the present.