Publication Details

Swann, C. (2016). In the mind of an elite athlete: what do sportspeople think when they excel? The Conversation, 16 August 1-3.

Link to publisher version (URL)



Most of us are fascinated by the achievements and successes of elite athletes, who train for years to have the opportunity to reach their goals on the world stage.

These sportspeople show us what's possible for the human body - how fast we can move, how far and high we can jump, how strong or graceful we can be. But what goes on in the mind of an elite athlete performing at their peak?

Athletes' psychological states - the temporary, brief, subjective experiences that happen during exceptional performance - are often collectively described as "the zone". A recent example was British Open winner Henrik Stenson, who was described as "not just in the zone … but on a crest of inspiration".

But the latest research shows there are two psychological states underlying excellent performances in elite sport - two different zones. Professional golfers describe these as "letting it happen" and "making it happen".