Sportopedia Glossary

Affective-emotional Zone

Affective-emotional Zone

The term ‘zone’ has geographic, technological, scientific, and other meanings. Even within sport, this term serves multiple purposes, such as tactical (e.g., zone defense) and psychological. For instance, the term ‘comfort zone’ serves as a metaphor for a mental state in which one feels comfortable. In many cases, the comfort zone is identified with senses of safety, belonging, and familiarity. In sport, optimal performance may be facilitated by feeling in the comfort zone (e.g., playing in a position with which one feels comfortable or competing in a familiar arena). However, it may also be associated with suboptimal performance (e.g., playing ‘safe’ and choosing unchallenging tasks/opponents/ events). Coaches often encourage athletes to step out of their comfort zone as they believe such an act may promote growth. Indeed, this view is supported with regard to learning facilitation.

Performance-wise, ‘zone of functioning’ relates to the relationship between the athlete’s affective-emotional state and his/her motor performance level. According to the zone of functioning paradigm, athletes can either be ‘in the zone’ or in a ‘dysfunctional zone’ (i.e., out of the zone). Being in the zone refers to an optimal emotional intensity state in which athletes perform to the best of their ability. Moreover, being in the zone relates to a state of flow that is characterized by automaticity, supreme confidence, sense of control, loss of selfconsciousness, transformation of time (e.g., time stands still or flies), challenge-skills balance (optimal level of arousal), etc. (Jackson & Marsh, 1996). In the dysfunctional zones, the athletes’ mental state is associated with suboptimal performance as their emotional intensity level is too high or too low. Hanin (see Hanin, 2000 for review) claimed that each athlete maintains an idiosyncratic relationship between emotional intensity
and performance. This approach, the Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning model (IZOF), centered initially on state anxiety. Thus, in the zone, anxiety level is optimal and peak performance is expected. In the dysfunctional zones, suboptimal performance is anticipated as one’s anxiety intensity exceeds or is below the optimal level. The IZOF concept has also time-related implications. Specifically, to attain peak performance, athletes may need to be in different affective states prior, during, or following a competition. Moreover, optimal performance during specific periods in the competitive season (e.g., preseason, practices, playoffs) may require different intensity levels of anxiety.

Similarly, idiosyncratic IZOFs are related to specific contexts. Hence, particular activities require idiosyncratic state anxiety levels. Hanin (2000) expanded the IZOF model to an ‘Affective-emotional zone’ model stating that performance relates to the idiosyncratic content and intensity of various emotions (e.g., anger, fear, confidence) rather than solely on state anxiety.

Kamata, Tenenbaum, and Hanin (2002) have further modified the IZOF model by presenting a probabilistic approach rather than a deterministic one to the affect-performance relationship. They have termed the new model as the Individual Affect-related Performance Zones (IAPZ). According to this model, being in the zone means that, given an affective state, the probability of optimal performance is higher than the probability of moderate or poor performances. In the dysfunctional zone, suboptimal performances are more plausible to take place as the emotional intensities are either higher or lower than optimally needed. Coping and self-regulation skills enable the performer to maintain in his/her zone or shift into it whenever being in his/her dysfunctional zones. The regulation process requires athletes to (1) be familiar with their IAPZ, (2) possess high self-awareness level about their current emotional state, and (3) hold a set of mental coping skills to regulate their affective state.


Hanin, Y. L. (Ed.), (2000). Emotions in sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Jackson, S. A., & Marsh, H. W. (1996). Development and validation of a scale to measure optimal experience: The Flow State Scale. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 18, 17 35.

Kamata, A., Tenenbaum, G., & Hanin, Y. L. (2002). Individual zone of optimal functioning (IZOF): A probabilistic estimation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 24, 189 208.

***Contributed by Lael Gershgoren for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.