I played the whole game in a trance I felt I could dribble through their whole team, almost pass through them physically.
Soccer Great Pele of Brazil
The experience does not happen to an elite athlete every day, but every once in a while, usually during times of intense feelings and often in the moment of truth in a match, a safe hole opens up in the tornado. The calm in the eye of the arousal storm can be a magical place of altered mental states, where centered athletes move around in slow motion, where they seem to have more room in time to react, and where they sometimes even have what they describe as out-of-body experiences.
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The sensations and enhanced concentration and skills which elite athletes report during high arousal seems to parallel the unusual experiences of others caught in pressure situations, such as police officers in gun battles, workers facing extreme deadline situations, rescuers at accident scenes, and even patients having out-of-body experiences during surgery. In these varied instances, they reported:
• Sharpened concentration and skills, making their target seem larger,
• A feeling of slow motion, offering more reaction time ( a phenomenon known as tachypsychia);
• feeling of power and control;
• Little or no pain; and
• Detachment from what was happening around them.
The Big Slowdown
The seemingly magical state of calm control is a precious, precarious state of mind, body, and emotions that remains terribly understudied because it is difficult to take apart in a lab setting and because sports science is still relatively superficial and not tied enough to human reactions in the real world. To assess the point, then, let’s step outside athletics for a moment to consider a related example of a professional suddenly gaining enhanced mental abilities. In 1984 in Woodstock, Ontario, Corporal Ron Thompson of the Ontario Provincial Police was confronted with an armed suspect holding his police partner hostage. He recalls his superhuman mental powers, which came to him in the extreme heat of the moment: A grey mantle, like a blanket, was rolled down. Suddenly everything was gone the street, the traffic, the moon, my partner. All that was left was the gunman and me. His head was transformed into a white oval egg. Very sharp. I shot him between the eyes and killed him. Then the mantle disappeared and everything was normal. Thompson did not tell his colleagues about his twilight zone experience because they would have thought I was crazy.
Sometimes often when they are seriously challenged athletes report experiencing a similar sensation. While their situations are not as grave, to them they are harrowing enough to their self-esteem to trigger their mind-body alarm systems and perhaps even fight or flight. Some examples:
1. Former NBA great Isiah Thomas: My anger drove me to a high level of performance, but then I went beyond that into a zone of calm and peace. Everything seemed effortless. The plays were in slow motion and the rim seemed this big [he stretched his hands wide] You are aware of every detail around you. You can even hear your own breath. It’s a real high, like drugs. But then the next night, I couldn’t get past the anger stage. It was frustrating.
2. Roger Bannister, upon becoming the first man to run the mile in less than four minutes: The world seemed to stand still, or did not
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