Learning to play in the zone

Brian Moylett, the author of The Book on How You Become a Pro Rugby Player, discusses how you play in the zone, with his three-step guide to coaching this.

Playing in the zone is sometimes known as a flow state. It is when you’re in that place when it seems like time has slowed down and you just feel so confident you just want the ball. You feel like nothing can go wrong, and you’re not worrying about what might go wrong, what might not happen. You’re not thinking about the future, you’re not worrying about the past. You’re just completely present.


Many players worry throughout game day and the week preceding that day: “What if I make a mistake in the game? What will the coach think if it doesn’t go well? Will I play well today?”.

And then they beat themselves up about the past. Perhaps they made a mistake five minutes ago and they dwell on it. “I dropped that high ball, I’m definitely going to get dropped for that. This game is not going well, this is awful. I don’t want to be here.”

So, players often live in their heads in the future or in the past. Being present is when you’re not thinking about any of that stuff.


The flow state is what a lot of academic books and professionals will use.

A couple of years ago, I asked a group of young players, “has anyone here heard of the flow state before?” And out of 25, I got about four hands. I then said, “Have any of you heard of playing in the zone or do you know that?” Every hand went up.

So, I had to just tweak my language for the young players that I work with.


Mental skills are like physical skills. The more you practise them, the better you get at them. It’s not like flicking a switch.

I have a framework you can use and practise to give you different tools. But it’s not like you hear this now and then tomorrow you will forever be in the zone when you’re playing. It’s like if you get a gym programme and you do one weight session, you’re not going to be the strongest person on the field. You’ve got to practise them repeatedly.

Everybody can be in the zone when they’re playing. How often or how long you spend in that space when you play is down to many different things.

The reality is that you’re not going to be there all the time throughout your day.

You can be in the flow state throughout your day. You can be present when you’re washing your car, when you’re driving to work, you’re just in the moment thinking about the road and all these other things, when you’re reading a book, you can be in the zone. This is something that you can do throughout your life.


There is a three-step framework that I have for getting in the zone:

  1. Practise being present throughout the week
  2. Get your preparation right during the week
  3. Stop caring, stop worrying, and stop putting pressure on yourself.


Let’s gear up to being in the zone for Saturday. But, like everything, you don’t just rock up on a Saturday and be the best passer on the team, or the best kicker, or the strongest or the fittest. It’s all due to the work you do during the week.

So being in the zone is being present. To be skillful in being present, you must practise that during the week.

A good start is to meditate. You can also go for walks outside, putting your phone away, and not be listening to podcasts or music. It’s challenging.

It is a sense of mindfulness. Another one would be going for a swim in the sea. It’s great because you can’t be worried about what will happen tomorrow when you’re in the freezing cold water. You could replicate this by having a cold shower every morning. For me, it’s a habit I built up a couple of years ago, and that’s incredible for many reasons, but one of them is that it brings you to the present moment; you have to concentrate on your breathing.

When that cold water hits you, you have to breathe in deeply through your nose and it just brings you to the present moment.


Five minutes a day is a great place to start if you’ve never done this. You could start today by building in a meditation practice for five minutes every morning.

Get a piece of paper and put 30 boxes on the page. Every morning after you do your five minutes meditation, cross out a box. Then you’ll start to build momentum, and you’ve backed up days and days.

I learned this from Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian. He used it in his writing. He said: “I need to write every day.” After he writes, he ticks off a box.

Start with five minutes and build it up. Then, for 20 minutes in the evening, you put your phone away and you go for a walk outside with no podcast, no music. You’ll be so bored or may even be irritable. You’ll feel this energy in your body.


If you get to Saturday morning of a game and you’ve been eating crap food during the week. Or you haven’t done your gym sessions, or you’ve been slacking off training or even missing training.

If so, then you can be in your head thinking, Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready, or I don’t think this will go well and you can start to worry. Whereas, if you’re as fit as you can be, if you have studied your tape, if you have been very diligent during the week in getting your preparation right, then you will know, come Saturday morning, that there’s nothing more you could have done, there’s nothing more you could have done, so why worry?

Sounds ideal, but we all have busy lives that get in the way of this.

All you can do is all you can do so you give your best effort.

So, on a Sunday, plan out your week. Maybe you can’t do five gym sessions a week, maybe you can only do three. Maybe you can’t do as much as a pro player but if it’s so important to you, you will find the time.

Perhaps a university student might say, “Oh, well, I can’t or I don’t have time, because I’ve got all these essays.” What I would say to that university student is look at your screen time on your phone, and then tell me that you don’t have time to stretch for 20 minutes in the evening or then tell me that you don’t have time to do an extra conditioning session.

Because if you have more than an hour of screen time on your phone, you’re wasting your time. But you know, we do have time. So that’s a great excuse that people tell themselves, “Oh, I don’t have time.”

If you really want this bad enough, you will allocate your time in a way that will give you the best chance of achieving it.


The hardest one of the steps is to stop caring or worrying about outcomes. The other two are more physical things that you just do. To stop worrying is much more in the mind. It’s going to be very difficult for a lot of people is because we’ve conditioned ourselves to worry.

If you’re 20 years of age, and you’ve been playing rugby since you were 7, as a kid, you probably didn’t worry. Around the ages 12-14, when there were selections and coaches started getting involved more, telling you what you need to do better, then you probably started to worry.

For a number of years, you have conditioned your body and yourself to worry. Now you have to practise not worrying or caring. Practise going, “I don’t care what happens today. I don’t care if I make mistakes. I don’t care what the coach thinks. I don’t care what people on the sideline might think. I don’t care what my teammates will think if I make a mistake.”

Practise that. It won’t just happen. You can’t flick a switch and stop caring. Like the mindfulness practice, it takes time to develop.

  • “The zone” is a state of being completely present and confident in oneself, often referred to as a “flow state” by professionals.
  • It can be achieved by practising mindfulness, getting one’s preparation right, and letting go of worries and pressure.
  • It is important to practise mindfulness throughout the week in order to achieve the zone more frequently.
  • Meditation, going for walks, swimming in the sea, and taking cold showers are all ways to practise mindfulness.
  • The zone is not a constant state and it is not achievable all the time, but the more one practises being present and mindful, the more frequently they can enter the zone.

To find out more about Brian and order his book, click here.

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