Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Flow in Sport, Exercise, and Performance: A Review with Implications for Future Research

Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Flow in Sport, Exercise, and Performance: A Review with Implications for Future Research

Article excerpt

Abstract

The broad definition of flow is a person's sense of joy, creativity and an experience of total involvement in life. Such an experience fosters the development of a conscious state where optimal human functioning flourishes (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Qualitative and quantitative research on the topic has led to a definition of flow that includes nine sub-experiences that constitute the conscious state of flow. While based on the nine components of flow, often flow reflects a diverse experience based on the person's level of ability (expert vs. amateur), activity, and cultural background. Research within the area of flow and its applications is still young. Several areas within flow research need further exploration. This systematic review provides an in depth discussion of the theoretical foundations of flow, current research, and recommendations for expanding flow theory and research.

Keywords: Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, engagement, flow theory, sport psychology

Introduction

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi developed the construct of flow from his early work on the effects of anxiety and boredom on task absorption. He describes flow as a concept that defines the full ranges of optimal human functioning. The broad definition of flow is a person's sense of joy, creativity, and an experience of total involvement in life. Such an experience fosters the development of a conscious state where optimal human functioning flourishes (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). This concept has served as a beginning point for a body of research on flow and has fostered a more in depth understanding of flow achievement, and the individual experiential factors present when a person is experiencing flow.

Early Perspectives on Flow

The study of flow began in the early 1970s at the University of Chicago with the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His work began the process of investigating optimal human functioning by examining participants' descriptive narrative of the experience. Csikszentmihalyi sought to understand the specific aspects of the human experience most commonly expressed among people who displayed adept skills and abilities in their field in order to better understand the specific domains of high performance (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). From in-depth interviews, Csikszentmihalyi developed the nine domains of flow with findings published in his 1990 work titled, Flow. Susan Jackson elaborated on these nine domains in her doctoral studies and early work in which she studied elite athletes' experience of flow and performed qualitative content analysis on their descriptions. Since her early work, Jackson has dedicated her career to studying flow in elite athletes. Jackson points out the nine domains of flow "Together...represent the optimal psychological state of flow; singly they signify conceptual elements of this state" (Jackson & Eklund, 2002, p. 134). Important to the concept of flow is that at no time are we able to truly measure flow; instead, we are able to measure only the psychological experiences indicative of (and correlated to) the flow state. The following descriptions of the flow domains (see below) are from Csikszentmihalyi's 1990 work, Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), and Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi's combined undertaking, Flow in Sports (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).

Defining Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first coined flow, colloquially known as one's ability to "get into the zone." Specifically, flow is athletes' full engagement in their athletic performance that involves an ideal balance among focus, enjoyment, the challenges of the competitive situation, and the athlete's skills. Athletes attempt to find this harmonious balance during competitive performance whereby the athlete or performer's mind and body are engaging the competitive event with seemingly automatic, correct, and autotelic response.

According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), flow is a cognitive state that involves athletes enjoying and focusing on their athletic performance (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). …

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