Friday, September 16, 2005

Creating a Team That Lives in "the Zone"

"The zone" describes a mind-body experience when an athlete just seems to know where to be, when to be there, and how to finish. As a high school baseball player I had a brief in-the-zone experience. I was already 2 for 2 in a game against our arch-rivals when I came up to the plate in the top of the last inning. I hit a grand slam to put us up one run. The ball seemed to slow down that day-like I could see the seams. I didn't really swing hard-the ball just jumped off my bat. My time in the zone was shortlived. In the bottom of the last inning I threw the ball over the dugout on a relay to home. It cost us the game.

Would any hockey prognosticator have predicted the Hurricanes as a Stanley Cup finalist in 2002? How about a Lightning/Flames final in 2003? I think not. These were teams that lived in the zone for those brief moments in time. The Hurricanes might never have made it to the '02 Cup final had it not been for Nick Wallin's improbable overtime goal in game 4 of the Canadians series. That goal deflated the Canadians. It took them out of their, "Saku is back-we are French and invicible" zone. It also boosted the 'Canes belief in their own rising star-a star that unfortunately peaked and imploded after a grueling overtime loss in game 2 of the '02 Cup finals.

This week the boys are in up-tempo immersion therapy, Lavvy-style. Gone are the days of defense, defense, defense, counterpunch, defense. From what I'm reading, the 'Canes will spend almost as much time building team identity and chemistry as they will spend learning the system. He's got a family picnic day and a ropes course program on the training camp schedule. I'm not sure I believe in the all the Dr. Phil, Dr. Covey, touchy-feeling stuff. Hockey players are not wired like Arthur Anderson consultants.

On the radio the other day, I heard a former politician (name witheld to avoid knee-jerk political reactions) quoted as saying, "If you're not on the offensive then you're playing defense." Being on the defensive all the time wears out your team and your fans. You are forced to play/watch not in expectation of the next rush, but in fear of a break in the levee.

One of the reasons I'm optomistic about this upcoming season is that Lavvy seems committed to up-tempo hockey. I think this will foster an expectation among the boys that they will inevitably gain control over the flow and tempo of their games. Control is power and once the 'Canes start believing that they have the power reach out and grab control of a game through the force of their will, they will begin to live in the zone on a nightly basis.

Hey, Tony Roberts has nothing on me...

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