Flow Basics • Flow is that effortless, automatic performance where everything goes perfectly and you play your best. • In ESPN vernacular, Flow is ‘being in the zone!’ • Bob Beaman’s 29’2” long jump in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was flow. • ‘The Miracle on Ice’ when the US Ice Hockey Team won the gold medal in Lake Placid was flow or what we sometimes call ‘synergy’ in team sports.
Flow Research • Most flow research originally conducted by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian born professor at the University of Chicago. • Dr. C’s father was a count in Hungarian nobility who gambled away their estate in a high stakes poker game when he was 9. • Dr. C is interested in what makes activities intrinsically motivating (activities we do for the pure love of the game).
Dr. C’s Research • Dr C’s initial research looked at a wide range of performance activities including: sport, music, dance, rock climbing, sculpting, surgery, and painting. • When asked about their ‘peak’ experiences, where they were most intrinsically motivated, subjects often talked about how their performance seemed to ‘flow.’
Essence of Flow • Flow is a highly-sought-after type of intrinsic motivation because performance seems to transcend mental and physical ability. • Not only does flow promote top performance it also enhances enjoyment and maximizes intrinsic motivation.
Personal Flow Experiences • Can you think of a time when you experienced flow as a performer, either individually or as a team? • Can you think of a time when a performer or team you coached were ‘in the zone?’ • What do you remember about these flow experiences?
Characteristics of Flow • A challenging activity that requires skill. • Clear goals and feedback. • Merging of action and awareness. • Concentration on the task at hand. • The loss of ego and self-consciousness. • Paradox of control. • The transformation of time. • An autotelic experience.
1. Challenging Activity Requiring Skill • Activity has to be challenging enough to get the performer totally absorbed in the task. • Walking may not be complex enough. • Reading a good book or watching a compelling movie can prompt flow. • Flow occurs when you are evenly matched with your opponent.
2. Clear Goals and Feedback • Performers must have clear goals for what they are trying to accomplish. • Winning is the overriding goal of sport, but athletes need individual goals as well. • Flow occurs only when athletes consistently get feedback on goal attainment.
3. Merging of Action and Awareness • Performers must get totally “into the activity.” • “Sometimes it feels as though I not only concentrate fully on the activity, but also I become the activity.” • Flow has a Zen-like flavor. • “… nothing else matters” when we’re in flow. • Right brain function.
4. Total Concentration • Fully focused on the task-at-hand. • Impervious to distractions. • Into the present… “here and now.” • “When I’m playing in the zone, I’m not distracted by school or my upcoming midterms. I’m fully into the game and the game only.”
5. Loss of Ego and Self-consciousness • Ego detached from performance. • Athletes observe performance, but they don’t judge themselves or rate how they’re doing. • No self-criticism: just observe and make changes. • How do you respond to a mistake?
6. Paradox of Control • Feeling of total control without actually trying to control the situation. • Able to predict what will happen. • Total control over an inherently uncontrollable situation (e.g., sport). • Can’t make flow happen… must finesse it.
7. Transformation of Time • Once flow is over, time seems to have sped by… hours seem like minutes. • During flow, time slows down so you have more time to react and make decisions.
8. Autotelic Experience • “auto” : means the experience is highly automatic. • “telic” : focuses on flow as the ultimate type of intrinsic motivation.
Practical Flow Question • Can athletes and coaches create flow, or does it just happen? DQ 1: Can athletes and coaches create flow? Why or why not?
How to Maximize Flow • Fit the difficulty of the task to athletes’ skill level. • Maintain proper focus. • Forget time. • Relax and wake up. • Train for flow.
Match Goal Difficulty toAthletes’ Capabilities Challenge vs. Skill Balance ? FLOW Goal Difficulty ? Athlete’s Skill Level
2. Maintain Proper Focus • Understand the cues you need to focus on to perform your best. • Focus on the present; not the past or future. • Concentrate on the things you can control not the things you can’t. • Learn to block out common distractions.
3. Forget Time • Time acts as a distraction when we start worrying about competition ending. • Mistakes upset us more at the end of competitions than the beginning. • Be aware of time without dwelling on it or letting it distract you.
4. Relax and Wake Up • The right ‘psych level’ requires a delicate balance of relaxation and energization. • Athletes need to be physically relaxed and mentally calm. • Performers also require a high energy level to compete at their best.
5. Train for Flow • Don’t leave flow up to chance. • If you want to get into flow frequently and remain longer, you must train for flow. • Set up conditions that maximize the chances of experiencing flow. • Maintain naturally occurring flow as long as possible.
Training for Flow • Make sure athletes are in optimal physical conditioning and have automated key techniques and tactics. • Use mental plans and pre-performance routines to create, maintain and regain the flow-frame-of-mind. • Develop positive, confident thoughts and feelings. • In team situations, emphasize trust, shared purpose (e.g., goals), communication and selflessness among teammates.
What Can Coaches Do? • Set realistic goals for each athlete. • Keep practices varied and interesting. • Keep everyone active. • Avoid constant instruction during practice. • Avoid evaluation and criticism during competition. • If flow occurs, leave athletes alone and let flow.
Additional Flow Questions • How often does flow occur for most athletes and teams? • Is flow more common in individual or team sports? • Do male or female athletes experience flow more often? • Is flow more likely when play is continuous or stops frequently?
Additional Flow Questions • What impact do timeouts have on flow? • If your team is in flow, what should you do if your opponent calls timeout? • How do substitutions influence flow? • Is it easier to experience flow when teams substitute a lot or a little? • How does offensive and defensive complexity impact flow?
The Flow Model Challenge High Anxiety Flow Skills Skills Average High Low Boredom Apathy Low Challenge
Factors Facilitating Flow • Positive mental attitude: • Confidence. • Positive thinking. • High motivation. • Positive competitive affect: • Being relaxed. • Controlling anxiety. • Enjoying.
Factors Facilitating Flow • Maintaining appropriate focus: • Staying in the present. • Very narrow focus. • Focusing on key points. • Physical readiness: • Being well trained. • Working hard. • Being well prepared.
Factors Disrupting Flow • Physical problems / mistakes: • Physical problems. • Mistakes by self. • Mistakes by partner / team. • Inability to maintain focus: • Losing concentration. • Distractions / interruptions. • Negative mental attitude: • Negative self-talk. • Doubting self. • Self-critical attitude.
Optimal Mental State for Peak Performance • 1. Self-regulation of arousal: • Energized but relaxed. • 2. High self confidence. • 3. Appropriately focused concentration. • 4. In control but not forcing it. • 5. Positive preoccupation with sport. • 6. Determination and commitment.
Research and Flow • Ravizza (1977) 20 athletes in 12 sports. • Loss of fear – No fear of failure. • No thinking about performance. • Total immersion in the activity. • Narrow focus of attention. • Effortless performance. • Feeling of being in complete control. • Time – space distortion (slowed down). • Perceived universe to be integrated & unified. • Unique, temporary, involuntary experience.
Research and Flow • Loehr (1984) 100’s tennis players • High energy (challenge, intensity, determination, and inspiration). • Fun and enjoyment. • No pressure (low anxiety). • Optimism and positiveness. • Mental calmness. • Self confidence. • Being very focused. • Being in control.
Research and Flow • Garfield & Bennett (1984). • Mentally relaxed. • Physically relaxed. • Confident / optimistic. • Focused on present. • Highly energized. • Extraordinary awareness. • In control. • In the cocoon.
Research and Flow • Hahoney & Avener (1977) US Olympics. • Gymnastic Qualifiers vs. Non-qualifiers • Finalists were better at: • Coping with mistakes. • Controlling and utilizing anxiety. • Higher self confidence and more positive self-talk. • More gymnastics related dreams. • More frequent internal vs. external imagery.