CARVER Coaching & Performance Newsletter

Hi, Paul here,

I hope this finds you well and thanks for joining again. This week’s topic is:

Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning

In sport and many other performance domains, we strive to find that sweet spot of optimal arousal in order to perform to our highest capabilities; that place we feel most activated and ready to perform. It is often thought that, just like Goldie-Locks and the Three Bears, this zone of optimal arousal is somewhere in the middle. However, a school of thought which considers more the complexities and nuances of the individual and their preferences takes an alternative view, and instead purports that it is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to optimal performance. This concept is known as the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (Yuri Hanin, 1970).

Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning vary from sport to sport, and indeed from position to position within the same sport. For example,the intensity and arousal may be high for sports like sprinting or powerlifting in comparison to golf or archery. The focus and concentration for a sport like swimming and long-jumping is very different to that required in soccer or basketball. Rugby players may benefit from having a high level of aggression and emotion in contrast to gymnasts, who require a more composed and regulated emotional state. Furthermore, in rugby, a front row might thrive on aggression and physical contact compared to a number 10 who may succeed when composed and spatially aware. Middle distance runners require a higher level of arousal than long-distance runners in order to be able to focus most appropriately for their competitive distance. Moreover, if we consider the wide range of characters and personalities in a team environment, we will rarely come across two athletes who prepare the same for competition. And so it becomes clear that as coaches we should develop an understanding, appreciation and respect for every individual when it comes to performance preparation.

Through reflective practice and habit tracking, the athlete (and indeed coach) may develop a greater understanding of what works for them and how they can achieve their optimal zone consistently in competition. Individualised mental preparation may also support individuals in achieving the unique emotional and physiological state they require to achieve peak performance in training and competition. As coaches, we must strive to facilitate our athletes’ performance and not dictate or ascribe a method for how they must prepare by our standards.

How can you do this coach?

CARVER Insight

Part of my work involves helping in the background with coaching and management teams in sport. Many are very performance orientated, and involved in high stakes competitive sport. Management and coaching in competitive sport can be a high pressure, passionate endeavour. Passion can drive subjectivity. Coaches and management team need to be objective. My role often involves establishing: purpose, clarity, cohesion and process in the Management team. My job is to bring, and drive, objectivity and best principles.

In competitive sports management and coaching environments there are two big questions we must explore in detail and constantly reflect upon.The first is how can the management team utilise their skills in an efficient and intelligent manner in order to create a playing and training environment that can significantly improve the outcomes for all athletes? The second is, how can the Management team exhibit an abundance of examples of excellence so that excellence becomes the standard for all in the team environment? It can take a long time and much intelligence to get to the bottom of this.

The devil is in the detail,


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