Flow in sport is a state of mind. It is achieved when athletes feel completely engaged in their performance, when they are fully focused on what they are doing and when this heightened attention is associated with a number of positive factors including improved performance.
When athletes are interviewed about their experiences of the flow state when participating in their individual sports a common theme that emerges is one of absorption. A connection appears to be present between absorption and the degree of challenge experienced with some athletes reporting a stronger sense of flow as the challenge increases because more absorption is needed to meet the challenge.
Although the flow state is attainable in numerous types of activity reports of the flow state in sport are more common than in many of the other domains with athletes who experience the flow state frequently describing experiencing increased confidence through a sense of control and less self-consciousness as a result of their absorption in the activity.
Another theme that is commonly reported by athletes who experience the flow state is a distorted perception of time. In a flow state athletes tend to enjoy the experience and to be so present in the moment that time appears to go by really quickly. Paradoxically the opposite has been known to occur also whereby athletes are so present and comfortable in the moment that time appears to slow down. Interestingly a distorted perception of time occurs both in sports which are time dependant such as GAA, soccer, rugby etc. which are played over a specified time period and also sports that are not time dependant such as tennis, golf, surfing etc. It would appear that the subjective experience of time is contingent upon how well the activity is going, or in other words if the activity is intrinsically rewarding for the athlete.
The good news for any athletes reading this who might be interested in experiencing the flow state in sport, or experiencing it more frequently than they currently do, is that the ability to enter the flow state can be learned. Decades of empirical research into describing, explaining, and predicting flow have yielded results and insights which are transferrable and which, with practice, can be applied in specific domains such as sport. The outcomes can be athletes feeling alert, merging action with awareness, and operating at the peak of their abilities as if decisions are made effortlessly or even unconsciously.
The other good news is that I currently work with athletes on a 1:1 basis in-person or online to help them to develop the flow state in their sport. If you would like to find out more please visit www.cogbeh.com
Cogbeh provides a broad range of cognitive behavioural services to a broad demographic in-person or online.