The most famous definition of mindfulness comes from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Executed properly, mindfulness can help quarterbacks get “into the zone” more quickly and sustainably over time. Many athletes have experienced being in the zone at one time or another in their life. When this happens, it always (for most people) seems to happen by accident or coincidence.
When we have such a performance, we naturally begin looking for answers on how we can do it all over again. By applying the practice of mindfulness and appropriately training our brains as extensively as we train our bodies, we can gain tremendous knowledge about our mind, body and performance while having full awareness of our experiences, thus allowing us to enter “the zone” and perform within it.
Seeing The Field
The mindful quarterback must be fully present before he takes each snap. Often, the poor decisions a quarterback makes happen because he does not take his time to truly see the field before he signals for the snap. He might glance, look around for a bit, and go through the checks on the defense, but he is just doing so in a robotic fashion.
The mind should be clear before the quarterback takes each snap. What mindfulness teaches is approaching the line of scrimmage (LOS) similarly to how a professional golfer approaches the tee, right before he pulls back and rips the ball down the fairway.
The same patience, calm, focus and intention that a professional golfer displays before his swing is the same focus a quarterback should have – and practice – before taking a snap and executing a play.
In golf, a quiet environment is encouraged at all times. In football, noise is encouraged at all times but the quarterback can develop the tools to help ignore or face out the noise, remain calm, and keep his focus so he will be able to approach the line of scrimmage similar to how a professional golfer approaches the tee.
Getting In The Zone
When the quarter back approaches the LOS, he must take whatever breath he has in himself and use either the “in-breath” to absorb it into the body or the “out-breath” to completely release it. He should do whichever feels right and natural to him.
Then, he begins with a new breath, slowly inviting the in-breath and patiently allowing the out-breath to make its way out. He takes his eyes through the pre-snap progressions and sees everything for what it truly is by allowing his eyes to perform the thinking process, giving his mind pure information, rather than allowing his mind to be given information from his imagination.
Next, he begins to feel focus coming into his eyes, mind and body, and he settles into that moment. When he is settled, he should be able to better execute the next snap because his eyes and mind are clear and his body is relaxed. There is nothing interfering with what he knows. He knows the play and the defense. He knows the progression and assignment. The noise is gone, the sidelines in his peripheral vision are gone, and the imagination from his mind are gone.
The only thing he sees is what his is about to accomplish in this moment when the ball is snapped.
When the quarterback signals for the ball, his “auto self” will begin to do its job without interruption because the mind and body are in a pure state. As he goes through his progressions (assuming it is a pass play), he does so with soft open eyes, but with a purpose.
The football remains gently nested in his grip and secure because his already become familiar through object awareness; it’s now a natural instead of forced process. Now that his eyes have identified the situation, he lets the ball go to its destination, lets it fly without worry or fear, and observes what happens.
The quarterback must repeat this process for each play, whether in practice or in a game.
This process is designed to help the quarterback maximize his abilities that he’s already obtained through visual training, film study and hard work. He simply cannot do this without persistence, repetition and hard work. The more he studies, the better this process will help.
If your quarterback is struggling, it will help him improve. If he is performing great, it can help him enhance and build on what he’s already doing well.
The game is moving faster around the quarterback than it does around anyone else, and the quarterback needs to respond quickly. But, he must do so by allowing his eyes and his auto-self (not his imagination) to do its job. If the quarterback trains his eyes and his mind properly and repeatedly, he’ll execute with the timing and precision he needs, and the game will appear to slow down around him, allowing him “into the zone” to perform at a higher level.
Marcus Mayo is head coach of Northwood (Md.) High School. He is also author of Mindful Quarterbacking: A Playbook For The Quarterback’s Mind, which is available on Amazon.com at http://bit.ly/mindfulqb.
If you are interested in more in-depth articles and videos, please become an AFCA member. You can find out more information about membership and specific member benefits on the AFCA Membership Overview page. If you are ready to join, please fill out the AFCA Membership Request Form.