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In the second installment of “Getting in the Zone”, we will discuss how athletes can achieve a state of flow during competition as well as the different factors that can disrupt athletes and prevent them from getting in the zone.

While most athletes have experienced flow, achieving it consistently is not an easy thing to do. According to Jackson and Csíkszentmihályi (1999), reaching a state of flow depends largely on your perception. If you perceive the challenge to be equal to your skill set, the chances of achieving flow increase. Studies by Jackson (1995) have revealed that while athletes cannot control flow, they can certainly increase the probability of it occurring. To improve your chances of experiencing flow, consider trying a few of these tips:

• Recall a competition or moment in your life when you felt completely absorbed in the activity. Remembering these states of flow will help you experience it again.
• Have a clear idea of what makes flow possible for you. Everyone is different!
• Try not to focus entirely on outcomes. For example, if you are too worried about winning, you may not be focused enough on your mental state.
• To achieve flow consistently, you need to keep increasing your skills. This is important because if your skills do not increase with the challenge, you will experience anxiety instead of flow.

Understanding how to achieve flow is critical, however learning the factors that prevent a disrupt flow is equally important. According to Weinberg and Gould (2011), the factors that athletes identified as preventing flow were less than optimal physical preparation, readiness, and environmental or situational conditions; the reasons the gave most often as disrupting flow were environmental and situational influences. Some examples of preventative factors are: injury, fatigue, unwanted crowd response, self-doubt, no goals, unforced errors, and poor technique. Disruptive factors can include: stoppage in play, negative referee decisions, lack of physical preparation, negative talk on the field, loss of concentration, and putting pressure on yourself.

As you have learned, flow is a very positive and performance-enhancing state that can be achieved by any athlete. Recalling previous memories of flow should be part of your mental training just as visualization or goal setting is. Increasing the probability of achieving flow will undoubtedly improve your athletic performance, and being aware of potential threats to flow will help you remain focused and in the zone when faced with adversity.

References:
Jackson, S.A. (1995) Factors influencing the occurrence of flow state in elite athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 7(2): 138-166
Jackson, S.A., & Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1999) Flow in sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2011) Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics