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Dancing into the zone

Julie Bacon Agility Meditation Mental Game

This past weekend I was doing my usual "thing" and walking my agility course with my music playing through the earbuds. To be specific, I listen to a single song over and over on repeat for the duration of my prep time. I will listen to the same song for a season or year or even years. To qualify, a song must have a beat that works well for walking and running the course (faster dogs means faster music) plus be inspirational- to me, anyway.

I find music incredibly personal and what is beloved by one is often dismissed by another, so I won't distract this conversation by sharing my choices. Suffice to say, Indie's songs are different than Moxie's which are different from Karma's. I also have different tunes to moderate my intensity - from more focus to more fun. For instance, "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor reminds me to just go have fun with Indie.

So what do my pop tunes set to repeat have to do with our performance in the ring? For me, it's a tool for getting myself into the zone quickly, predictably and in a lasting way. You might say I'm using my tunes to meditate, much like one would use mantras, but I don't want to scare you off by talking about meditation - ha.

Here's what my single song on repeat does for me:
  • Shuts out everyone around me talking about how they might handle a section or just generally venting.
  • Puts positive energy directly into my brain.
  • Gets me into a specific rhythm (think metronome) that becomes readily accessible later.
  • Works like an earworm to help drown-out everything else out of my head.
  • Regulates my breathing into s steady state.
  • Reminds me of other, successful performances.
  • Clears the mechanism (Who has seen "For Love of the Game?").

As I was walking the course this weekend, it clicked that these things in the above list are also true when one meditates. Plus, meditation often uses music or other rhythmic methods to help clear your mind and bring focus. Same same. Aren't I always saying that if you don't like to meditate, you haven't found your preferred style?!

So, a few takeaways:
  • Listening to music can be a form of meditation so long as you're using it to help bring focus.
  • Meditation comes in all sorts of forms!
  • Meditation helps you get in the zone faster and more reliably as you practice it and employ it regularly.

The zone in sports is this precious zenlike state where all else falls away and you are able to perform in flow. From casual to elite athletes, we all aspire to achieve this clear-headed space where it's just yourself and your dog walking to the line and trusting in skill and preparation.

Here are a few other dos and don'ts for me to aid in getting into my zone:
  • I do not check email before I run whenever possible. I really can't control what comes into my inbox, so why invite the distraction? This often goes for text and Facebook too. Basically, don't take on any other distractions if you can avoid it.
  • I don't engage in on-course discussions about handling. I admit I use the "I run a different dog" excuse that's ever handy for me, but I really don't need anyone else's input on my plan, nor do I need to give doubt an opening.
  • I stick to my rituals. I check the running order, I potty myself and my dog, I might have a few bites of a protein bar ... These things all become rote parts of my prep so I don't have to think about them and can instead focus on my run. Anything else can wait until after.
  • I visualize and rehearse the run with the song still in my head. Music helps me reconnect and I use it as a tool.
  • I connect to my dog and make sure nothing else is distracting me as I walk to the line. If I'm relaxed, I may joke with someone or thank the leash runner, but only if I'm confident in my plan.


As I look back through this post, another realization surfaces: I'm building a repeatable structure and set of actions that are uniquely my own and designed to "clear the mechanism" and get me in the zone. I challenge you to get conscious about the things you do already and see where you can strengthen your rituals to optimize your performance.

*Photo by Rich Knecht*



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