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Posted 09/09/2021 in Category 1

Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning

Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning

There are a number of approaches to explaining the emotion-performance link in sport. These include Apter’s reversal theory (1989) which was first applied to sport by John Kerr (1990, 1997) and approaches to anxiety and sport performance, such as, Multidimensional Anxiety Theory (MAT), and Catastrophe Theory (Hardy, 1990; Hardy & Fazey, 1987). A further approach, and the focus of this blog, is the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning Model (IZOF: Hanin, 2000a) which was originally developed to explain the association between anxiety and sport performance (Hanin, 1989) before more recently expanding to cover a range of emotions. 

Hanin’s (1980, 1986) Zone of Optimal Functioning (ZOF) refers to a band width, or zone of anxiety within which each individual performer is most likely to achieve optimum performance. The original research carried out by Hanin (1980, 1986) used a unidimensional concept of anxiety measured by Spielberger’s State Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger, Gorsuch & Lushene, 1970) and the ZOF was defined as plus or minus 4 points (approximately half a standard deviation) from the level of anxiety which proceeded the best performance.  Thus, those individuals whose pre-competitive anxiety levels fall within their ZOF will perform better than those individuals whose anxiety levels are outside their ZOF.  While there are obvious limitations in using a unidimensional concept of anxiety and a non-sport specific measure of anxiety, intuitively, it does make sense to consider that each individual will have their own optimum level of anxiety for best performance.

More recent work has focused on a broader range of emotions (see Hanin, 2000a, 2000b, for a review). The basic principle behind this approach is that there is an idiosyncratic relationship between emotional state (comprising a number of discrete emotions) and performance levels (Hanin, 2000a). For example, one athlete may perform well when tense and angry whereas a different athlete may perform poorly when in the same state. Hanin (2000a) provided a detailed description of the emotional response and proposed that it could be classified along 5 dimensions. Three dimensions related to the structure of the subjective experience: form, content, and intensity, whereas two dimensions related to the dynamics of the subjective experience: time and context. The form dimension describes the way in which emotions may represent themselves and includes cognitive, affective, motivational, somatic, kinesthetic, performance and communicative components. The content dimension describes the hedonic tone (pleasant-unpleasant) and impact of emotion on performance (optimal-dysfunctional), and the intensity dimension describes the strength of feeling. The time dimension refers to the temporal patterning of the emotion (e.g., pre, during, post competition) and the context dimension refers to the environmental characteristics (e.g., practice, competition). 

To illustrate the IZOF approach Hanin and Syrjä (1995) asked junior ice hockey players to choose the positive emotions and the negative emotions that they thought related to their own effective or ineffective performances in the past.  The participants were given a revised list of emotions which were originally used by Watson and Tellegen (1985) in the construction of the Positive and Negative Affect Scale.  Hanin and Syrjä, reported that the 46 participants used in the study selected 44 positive emotions (e.g. alert, active, confident) and 39 negative emotions (e.g. tense, angry, irritated) as being relevant to sport’s performance.  In addition to the original list of emotions given to the participants 4 new positive emotions and 5 new negative emotions were selected.  All the emotions had positive or facilitating effects on performance depending on their idiosyncratic meanings and intensities.

To explain how emotions arise Hanin (2000a) has drawn on Lazarus’ Cognitive-Motivational-Relational Theory (CMRT: 1991) and proposed that emotions are triggered by a person’s cognitive appraisal of the probability of achieving relevant goals. For example, if a person feels that they are going to lose an important competition (that they wanted to win) they may feel upset and disappointed. The application of CMRT to Hanin’s model has been criticized by Crocker et al. (2002) who argued that CMRT was developed for distinct emotions and does not explain how emotional states comprising a range of discrete emotions may occur. Certainly, more research is needed into the frequency and temporal patterning of emotions throughout sport competition. Also, both Crocker et al. (2002) and Lazarus (2000) criticize some of the adjectives used to describe emotions by Hanin (2000b). For example, he uses the terms confident and purposeful which may describe cognitive states rather than emotions. 


Image by John Hain from Pixabay 


Apter, M. J. (1989). Reversal theory: Motivation, emotion and personality. London, UK: Routledge. 

Crocker, P. R. E., Kowalski, K. C., Graham, T. R., & Kowalski, N. P. (2002). Emotion in sport. In J. M. Silva III & D. E. Stevens (Eds.), Psychological foundations of sport. (pp.107-131). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Hanin, Y.  (1980).  A study of anxiety in sports.  In W. F. Straub (Ed.), Sport Psychology: An analysis of athlete behaviour (pp. 236-249).  Ithaca.  Ny: Movement.

Hanin, Y.  (1986).  The state-trait anxiety research on sports in the USSR.  In C. D. Spielberger and R. Diaz-Guerrero (Eds.), Cross-cultural anxiety (Vol. 3, pp. 45-64).  Washington:  Hemisphere.

Hanin, Y. L. (1989). Interpersonal and intragroup anxiety in sports. In D. Hackfort & C. D. Spielberger (Eds.), Anxiety in sports: An international perspective (pp. 19-28). Washington, DC: Hemisphere.

Hanin, Y. & Syrjä, P.  (1995).  Performance affect in junior ice hockey players: An application of the individual zones of optimal functioning model.  The Sport Psychologist, 9, 169-187.

Hanin Y. L. (2000a). Individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) model: Emotions-Performance relationships in sport. In Y. L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 65 – 89). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Hanin Y. L. (2000b). Successful and poor performance and emotions. In Y. L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 157 – 187). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Hardy, L. (1990). A catastrophe model of performance in sport.  In G. Jones and L. Hardy (Eds.), Stress and performance in sport. (pp. 81-106).  Chichester, England:  Wiley.

Hardy, L., & Fazey, J. (1987). The inverted-U hypothesis: A catastrophe for sport psychology? Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, Vancouver, June.

Kerr, J. H.  (1990).  Stress and sport: reversal theory.  In G. Jones and L. Hardy (Eds.), Stress and performance in sport. (pp. 107-131).  Chichester, England:  Wiley.

Kerr, J. H.  (1997).  Motivation and emotion in sport.  East Sussex.  Psychology Press Ltd.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lazarus, R. S. (2000). How emotions influence performance in competitive sports. The Sport Psychologist, 14, 229-252.

Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., & Lushene, R. F.  (1970).  Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory.  Palo Alto, CA:  Consulting Psychologists Press.