Sports Psychology
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Sports Flow
Flow in Sports
Authors: Sue Jackson, PhD, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Abstract
What exactly is Flow?  Flow is still one of the least understood phenomena in sport. And yet it is one of the richest, most memorable experiences an athlete will ever know. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, developed the concept of flow in the mid-1970s and has pioneered research on the subject in work, social, and educational settings together with, sport psychology researcher, Sue Jackson, they attempt to explain the phenomenon and to identify the key conditions associated with its occurrence in their book Flow in Sports.

All sports offer plentiful opportunities to experience flow; however, only a few actually experience flow and for most most athletes the concept seems mysterious and unachievable. Many coaches and athletes only experience flow by chance. This is not surprising since the conditions that are most conducive to experiencing flow and its components have generally not been adequately researched and explained.

Subjective experience in physical activity and other performance settings, with flow as a focal variable, has been examined in quantitatively and qualitatively based research projects. The overall aim of this research is to understand the role of flow in participation and performance.

Ongoing research is being conducted using flow scales, developed in Jackson's research, with a variety of participants, including those involved in sport, exercise, yoga, music, and other arts activities.

The Flow Scales have demonstrated good psychometric properties, and the current focus is on building a large and diverse population of responses to the different flow scale versions, as well as to examine the flow experience across a range of activities and settings.

Subjective experience in physical activity and other performance settings, with flow as a focal variable, has been examined in quantitatively and qualitatively based research projects. The overall aim of this research is to understand the role of flow in participation and performance.  The Flow Scales have demonstrated good psychometric properties, and the current focus is on building a large and diverse population of responses to the different flow scale versions, as well as to examine the flow experience across a range of activities and settings.

The Flow Scales can provide answers to questions such as these. The Flow Scales assess the optimal psychological experience of flow – an experience involving total absorption in the task at hand. When in flow, one acts with confidence and ease, and usually at superior levels of performance. The Flow Scales have been used in a wide range of performance settings. We have developed a suite of scales – the Long, Short, and Core Flow Scales – providing a range of instrumentation to suit a diversity of research and applied purposes.

"Flow" & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Abstract
Csikszentmihalyi has based most of his research on empirical data based on surveying people spontaneously about what the activities they were undertaking and the way they were feeling (along several dimensions) at the time.

He used a watch which beeped at random times during each day and required his subjects to immediately complete a standard survey. For many subjects he followed them for one week a year for several years. The research has been undertaken and confirmed in several countries, and now reaches 250,000 surveys.

In simple terms the research showed that people were generally unhappy "doing nothing", were generally happy doing things, and generally knew very little about what made them happy.

How it feels to be in "the flow"
  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating - with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable - that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity - no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego - afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
  6. Timeliness - thoroughly focused on present, don't notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces "flow" becomes its own reward






Csikszentmihalyi saw optimal activities in the "flow" channel moving outward as skills are gained, and certainly before apathy sets in - clearly this parallels Vygotsky's theory of proximal development in learning situations.






Csikszentmihalyi summarized the results of his empirical research in terms of the main feelings reported for the various combinations of skills and challenge in the various activities undertaken.




Why then is it that most people find it "too difficult" to organize themselves towards more satisfying activities, but rather pursue apathetic ones like watching TV?

There is a clear need to overcome the initial resistance to do other than apathetic activities (those that don't need initiating by the person).

There is no apparent correlation between intelligence and flow experience - this is reflected
more in the different activities that are associated with flow for different people.

Recommended Reading:

The Sports Environment

References:

Focus and Flow: How to Achieve Perfect Concentration

How to Reach Your Achievement Zone     by Drs. Shane M. Murphy and Annemarie Infantino Murphy

In the Zone: The Zen of Sports     by Andrew Cooper

What Is the Zone and How Do You Get Into It? (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

The Zone and Golf (golf)     by Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.

Resources:
   
The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:
  
  
       
  
Confidence
Consistency
Flow/Peak Performance
Focus & Concentration
Goals and Objectives
Goal Setting
Hypnosis
Leadership
Personal Sabotage
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Momentum
Motivation

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The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.


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