FLOW ZONE

Recent applied sport psychology literature is replete with references to “the zone” . Denoted as the pinnacle of achievement for an athlete, the zone characterises a state in which an athlete performs to the best of his or her ability. It is a is a magical and special place where performance is exceptional and consistent, automatic and flowing. An athlete is able to ignore all the pressures and let his or her body deliver the performance that has been learned so well. Competition is fun and exciting.

While there is consensus that the zone describes a most highly desirable and much sought state in sport participation, there is little agreement as to the origin of the term. Its origin is unknown, whereas the legendary baseballer Ted Williams and the former Wimbledon Champion Arthur Ashe are both credited with coining the phrase “in the zone”. Notwithstanding its uncertain origins, the zone is “a fairly new development in the lexicon of sports culture” and a term used by athletes, researchers and practitioners alike.

As a term denoting an optimal or heightened state of consciousness, the zone can be likened to the diverse range of phenomena covered by the umbrella terms of ecstasy, transcendent or altered states of consciousness in sport participation. Such terms are variously denoted and include the concepts of “peaks”, “perfect moments”, “mindfulness”, “peak experience” and “flow”. In the sport psychology literature, the terms zone and flow are in fact used interchangeably and synonymously.

Flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi) describes the zone as a rare anddynamic state characterised as the experience of self-rewarding and enjoyable involvement. Flow theory states that while the zone can be experienced at varying levels, a phenomenological structure of eight dimensions describes the experience for individuals across occupations, demographic groups and cultures. These dimensions are listed by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as: (a) clear goals and feedback; (b) balance between challenges and skills; (c) action and awareness merged; (d) concentration on task; (e) sense of potential control; (f) loss of self-consciousness; (g) altered sense of time; and, (h) autotelic (self-rewarding) experience. These dimensions are deemed to constitute the conditions necessary for the occurrence and continuation of the zone.

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