The word “zone” in the context of sport has several meanings. ESPN has its own entertainment restaurant call The Zone. Being “in the zone” is a result of athletes experiencing fearless confidence. There are other zones as well, including scoring zones in sports such as the end zone and the red zone in football. And there is always the Twilight Zone. Is that the space where athletes raise the level of play off the ground?
Michael Jordan probably hung out there a lot. It was certainly the Rod Serling 1959 TV series that plays in my mind as I board the plane for Los Angeles, the home of the show.
I am usually very uncomfortable on a long distance flights. It is also Friday the 13th and there is a guy who looks like William Shatner, who played the salesman on the plane, sitting on a row in front of me. My daughter reminds me of the scene where the gremlin dances on the wing, but I throw away my fears due to the sea of purple around me. Even if the gremlin shows up I am surrounded by a zone defense of purple clad Prairie View A&M Women’s basketball players and their coaches. The Head Coach is Cynthia Cooper and you know she has coaching experience, because she is in her own zone rows away from the players.
Cooper, WNBA’s 1997 and ’98 MVP, 1998 Sportswoman of the year, and four-time WNBA champion, talked about the strategy of scoring in basketball. She knows a little bit about the subject being the first WNBA player to score 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 2,500 career points. In particular she described a zone on the floor where shots have a greater percentage of going into the bucket. “We try and shoot from the area between the paint and the three point line. Defenders play the paint and the arc pretty tight, so that leaves a gap in between,” said Cooper. This gap is much larger than the 254. 47 square inches of the hoop and huge compared to the cup in golf, a sport that lends lessons in finishing from the fringe.
The phrase “short game” refers to the shots in golf that range from 100 yards out to within inches of the cup. More than 50% of the scoring in golf is from the short distant pitches, chips and putts. By mastering these shots the percentages improve for the score to go down. Golf, even with its anti-scoring system and lack of opponent gives us greater insight into strategies of scoring zones in sports.
By looking at the golf hole from the end result first, instead of from the starting point on the tee box, the finishing shots become the focus. “If a player can get to the finishing area, and they have the mastery of the short game, then they do not need to put as much emphasis in their long game, or the big drive,” said Steve Bowman, Head Teaching pro at Matt Swanson’s School of Golf at Wildcat Golf Club. “I try and take the pressure off of my students to feel like they have to make a fantastic approach shot. When players hit it in the rough, I get them to place the next shot to the scoring zone, at about 100 yards out. All that is necessary now is to be near the green and it does not matter how you get there. The target is now much bigger,” said Steve. This is true with tour level players, who on average, hit 70% of their drives in the fairway, according to Bowman.
In football the color changes from green to red in the red zone, the area within twenty yards from the end zone. According to Maverick Head Football Coach, Steve Gleaves, “if you can get the ball to the red zone, you have a greater chance to score points.” The game is more complex than just a section of real estate to find, when you factor in teams’ strengths, opponents’ defenses, and the shrinking effect of the field the closer you get to the goal line. Nevertheless, the principle is the same as in basketball. There is an optimal gap where defenses are stretched and the distance to score is small. Ideally you can have a better chance to score by passing in the outer red zone and by running closer to the goal line. If all else fails you can score by kicking, making the red zone a high percentage place to get points on the board. If football teams spent more time training to score points from this area from kicking, running, or passing, then the target changes from the end zone to the red zone, an increase in 533 square yards.
The art of the start is to focus on the finish in a variety of sports, especially in soccer, where goals are few and far between. On the pitch most of the scoring takes place inside the 18 yard penalty box line. The target is not the goal plane but the zone between the goalie box and the 18, an increase in 792 square yards. “Get the ball to the weak side of the box and the scoring chances go way up, when the training emphasis is on finishing, said George Turely, Head Boys’ Soccer Coach at St. John’s. “We practice finishing shots every day. The play is not over until we see it hit the back of the net,” said Coach T. The weak side, the area where the defense has vacated, would cut that zone in half, but it is still much larger than the 8 yard goal plane.
More points in lacrosse and hockey are generated from an area outside the crease and inside the restraining line, also on the weak side of the defense. Following the scoring tactics of football, basketball, and soccer, these two target sports have an optimal scoring space between the goalie and the shortest distance to the goal where defenses are still spread out and trying to recover.
The sport of golf has yet to add a defensive component unless you count match play. The biggest opponent can be your self and that is a whole new story, somewhere in “The Twilight Zone.”
“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling
Next week’s story will focus on getting the ball to the scoring zone using the imagination and strategies from more of our coaching staff.