How Pete Carroll Got His Team ‘In the Zone’

In the past year, we’ve covered Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawk coach Pete Carroll three times in the Championship Performance Coaches Journal

In this week’s Winning Ways blog, we look at how Carroll worked to get his team mentally ready to compete ‘in the zone’. Carroll has been a long time advocate of sports psychology since his days with the New England Patriots and New York Jets where he worked with Championship Performance Advisory Board member and athletic mental game pioneer Ken Ravizza

Here is how Carroll described his efforts to get the Patriots mentally ready to compete one season as told in his book, “Win Forever”:  “When I was coaching New England we had a road game against first place Jacksonville. On the Saturday night at the hotel before the game, I racked my brain for some pearls of wisdom that might give us an edge the next day. I always valued these meetings as my final chance to impact my players. The tone would vary based on the circumstances and what my team needed to hear.

At this game, I wanted to neutralize everyone’s concern about the opponent’s home field advantage. We needed to enter the game with a single shared mindset. Realizing we had a great competitive challenge ahead of us, and I wanted to introduce the concept of peak sport experiences or playing ‘in the zone.’ I started with a favorite teaching principle of mine, the Socratic Method, where you enlist participation from your audience by asking questions to the entire group. I asked if anyone had pitched a perfect game or no hitter. I already knew one player had done so. Sure enough, the player took the bait, raised his hand and told us all about it. I made sure he talked about what he felt like during that game. He remembered feeling “invincible”. He described it as never feeling so “powerful” and in “total command” as he was that day. Of course he was proudly recounting his conquest that day. We all enjoyed the delivery as the seed had now been planted. I then asked others to share events in their athletic backgrounds where they felt similar sensations of extraordinary power.

Our QB talked about a contest in a previous year where he had seen the entire game in his mind prior to actually playing it.  He knew, in advance, that it would be one of the best games he would play. As he performed in the absence of fear, he felt that supreme confidence that he would play well.

As the stories flowed, the energy level surged, and everyone was engaged. The beauty of the Socratic Method is that when you pose a question to the group and pause to call for a response, everyone in the room is thinking about an answer. They all started to recall their perfect moments in sports and ‘being in the zone.’

When I felt we had come to a common understanding of the zone, I posed another question. I asked the team, “Do you realize that every time you take the field you have the opportunity for a peak experience?” I told them that the zone doesn’t have to be something that just mysteriously happens. We could create our very own zone for the next game.”

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