An Examination of Flow State Occurrence in College Athletes
Russell, William D., Journal of Sport Behavior
This study examined qualitative and quantitative aspects of flow within a group of college-age athletes. Forty-two athletes (27 males and 15 females) representing team sports (n = 28) (football, baseball, volleyball, softball, and basketball) and individual sports (n = 14) (swimming, track, wrestling, and triathlon) were interviewed on what factors they felt helped, prevented, and disrupted flow occurrence. Previous qualitative flow examination was extended (Jackson, 1995) and an interview format was developed in which an inductive analysis was performed Raw data which were integrated into higher order themes and general dimensions resulted in nine factors helping flow, eight dimensions preventing flow, and six dimensions disrupting flow that synthesized the 148 themes suggested by the athletes. Results of the qualitative analysis revealed marked overlap to previous qualitative results, however this sample perceived flow to be less controllable than elite athletes. In addition, these athletes completed the Fl ow State Scale (Jackson & Marsh, 1996) to obtain a quantitative assessment of flow relationships. Results of a two-way MANOVA (gender x sport type) on FSS subscales resulted in a nonsignificant interaction (p =.62) and nonsignificant main effects for gender (p =.45) and sport type (p =.11). In addition, separate two-ANOVAs performed on FSS subscales and total FSS scores with Bonferroni test to correct for family-wise error rate, indicated only one significant main effect for sport within the action-awareness subscale (F=9.62, p =.004). College athletes appear to have similar experiences of flow states, regardless of gender or sport type. Results are discussed in terms of the importance of examining both qualitative and quantitative aspects of flow occurrence in athletes.
Flow has been described as a state of optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) involving total absorption in a task at hand, and creation of a state of mind where optimal performance is capable of occurring. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) argued that there are particular activities that are more likely to produce flow, and personal traits that help people achieve flow more easily. A critical qualification of this state is that flow is not dependent upon the objective nature of challenges or the objective level of one's skills, but that flow is entirely dependent on one's perception of the challenges and their skill (Csikzentmihalyi, 1975). Recent research has examined possible associations between flow state and athletic performance (Jackson, Kimiecik, Ford, & Marsh, 1998; Jackson, 1992, 1993, 1995; Jackson & Roberts, 1992; Stein, Kimiecik, Daniels, & Jackson, 1995). The apparent association between flow state and peak performance (Jackson, 1992, 1993; Jackson & Roberts, 1992; Privette & Bundrick, 1991) makes un derstanding flow tantamount to the athlete, coach, and sport psychologist. Knowledge gained of these factors is important in helping athletes to prepare for optimal performance.
In explaining predispositions to experience flow, Csikzentmihalyi (1990) argued that particular activities that are more likely to produce flow, traits that assist in producing flow, and that there is a link between peak performance and peak experience (McInnman & Grove, 1991). Specifically, Csikzentmihalyi (1975) indicated that a skill-challenge balance was an essential precursor flow occurrence, and that flow was dependent upon the individual's ability to structure their consciousness so as to make flow possible. The complexities in examining flow relate to the concerns over qualitative and quantitative research approaches (Jackson & Marsh, 1996), yet the ability to effectively incorporate these approaches to the study of flow may have implications for applied sport psychology consultants. By identifying the psychological factors that enhance, inhibit, and disrupt flow, consultants and coaches may be better able to help athletes achieve optimal performance (Kimiecik & Stein, 1992). …