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How We Can Optimise Performance For All Our Young People

On our journey of learning about Trauma Informed Practice, we have been delighted to find out how we can use psychological safety to optimise performance for all our young people.

This can be in sporting situations such as making the jump from school sport to representative level, performing in exams or school shows, and in pressurised situations after our young people leave our care.

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It means that trauma informed practice is relevant to all young people we teach if we want them to flourish, regardless of whether they have suffered from childhood trauma.

It is a similar approach to what the England men’s cricket team under Ben Stokes and Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum have applied with cricketers like Zak Crawley and Harry Brook to maximise their chances of success. In this week's blog we explain more…

Michael Allison has developed ‘The Play Zone’, a science-backed approach to optimise resilience and performance based on Polyvagal Theory, a neurophysiological framework by Stephen W. Porges Ph.D.

Michael works with many people including International top 10 tennis professionals to optimise their performance as an executive coach. Michael explains ‘The Play Zone’ in more detail here:

‘Polyvagal Theory, by Stephen W. Porges Ph.D., explains the evolutionary changes in the autonomic nervous system that occurred in our transition from asocial reptiles to social mammals.

Although we retain the same primitive neurophysiological reactions to threat, as social mammals we have a unique capacity to detect features of safety and welcome in the environment and people around us, which adaptively dampens defenses, calms physiology and fosters co-regulatory relationships with others.

As a subconscious surveillance system, our autonomic nervous system is constantly monitoring and regulating our physiology in different ways depending on whether we interpret the current conditions as safe, dangerous or life threatening.

These physiological shifts (i.e. heart rate, breathing, metabolic output, etc.) are reflected in how we feel, and directly influence how we experience the world and interact with others.

The Play Zone is my unique application of Polyvagal Theory to optimize resilience and performance through our physiology. It originated in my work with professional athletes as an approach to manage emotions, improve focus and enhance performance in the high stakes world of competition.

Traditional sports psychology focuses on top-down strategies to manage performance anxiety without appreciating the underlying physiology driving how we feel, and the tremendous impact this has on our ability to perform.

Whether we feel nervous, tight and afraid of making a mistake, or relaxed, focused and confidently in control, is more than setting an intention or shifting our mindset. Between our potential and our performance is how we feel, which resides in our physiology.

When in our Play Zone, we experience a feeling of relaxed focus, calm energy, and a confident connection to what we are doing and who we are doing it with. In the heat of competition, when in our Play Zone, we are able to play when everyone else attacks, defends and protects.

When we press too hard, tighten up, or fold under pressure, it’s not that we aren’t good enough, but rather we are in a threat-oriented physiological state that doesn’t support our intentions and highest potential.

Essentially, every core component of performance, including reaction time, technique, speed of movement, problem solving, concentration, creativity and even our confidence, is dependent upon, and dynamically changes, as our physiology adaptively shifts in response to the challenges we are facing.

When we understand this, we have an opportunity to meet our body where it is, without shame, blame or criticism. When we take the stage and feel nervous, we don’t try to make it go away, repress what we are feeling, or pretend we are in control.

Instead, we relate to what we are feeling with kindness, patience and compassion. We stay on our own side. We look for a friendly face or listen for a reassuring voice. We open our posture, relax our shoulders, soften our gaze, sigh or slow down our exhales.

We become skillful at recognizing our physiological shifts, and we build inner resources, strategies, trusting relationships, and ways of relating to our bodily reactions that help to realign our physiology to support our intentions, resilience and performance. And then we see what happens…’

How we can help you?

If you find yourself eager to explore these strategies further and delve deeper into the world of trauma-informed practice to support young people in optimising their performance in PE, we welcome you to connect with us.

At Future Action, we are passionate about creating safe and nurturing educational environments that empower students to reach their full potential. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions, ideas, or inquiries.

We also have a range of taster resources you can try such as our ‘Enhancing Engagement in PE’ scorecard, click here to try it.

Additionally, if you're interested in the Play Zone approach and want to learn more about how it can be applied to various contexts, don't hesitate to contact our great friend Michael Allison and his team at the Play Zone.

They have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in optimising resilience and performance based on Polyvagal Theory, and they can provide valuable insights and guidance.

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