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How to increase the flow in a competition and perform better

How to increase the flow in a competition and perform better-768x440
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The feeling of continuity, of Flow, is experienced by each of us when indulging in a pleasant and interesting activity just for the sake of it and for no other purpose or goal and constitutes a great psychological state. How can it help me win?

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Many times when athletes are asked to describe how they felt participating in an enjoyable for them match the most common answers are that “I was very concentrated,” “I was in control of my feelings”, “I didn’t feel fatigue”, “I was totally engrossed in work that I had to do,” “I was clear in my thinking”, “I was not thinking of the result but I was enjoying the moment and that which I was doing”. Taking into consideration all of the above could be reported as positive feelings or else Flow during the competition.

The term “Psychological” Flow has prevailed in recent years in sport and researchers who deal with Applied Sports Psychology have shown huge interest in how they manage to help the athlete/student live such to experience during the competition.

We can all recall games and activities we did on our own or with friends and that made us feel so happy what we wanted to repeat them daily just for our pleasure and for how they made us feel.

In this sense, an athlete can make a personal record but not feel at that time that the whole experience was top-notch. There are times when athletes report that after achieving some record that “I did not expect to see the [finishing] time that I saw because I did not understand during the match I was in such good condition”. The concept of flow is not always linked to the individual record.

Csikszentmihalyi argues that if the person is in the flow depends on his ability to turn a stressful or boring situation into a challenging and interesting one.

Thus if the athletes/students feel that the match is easier or more difficult than the skills he/she has then they will feel apathy or anxiety respectively. But if there is a balance between competition and skills then the person will be found in psychological flow which is the whole point.

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Surveys show that:

  • The development and the improvement of skills through training,
  • The ideal ambient conditions,
  • Improved concentration and attention,
  • The increase in self-confidence,
  • The positive interaction with their significant others (coach, athletes, agents, etc.), and
  • The creation of the experience

improve and increase the flow of the match.

It should be noted that it is a common phenomenon for the athlete/student to amend his thoughts on race and while initially experiencing high positive emotions and flow, then for various reasons such as the appearance of an outsider in a higher position or an injury can lead to changes in the experience and emotions to turn into negative ones resulting in the reduction of flow.

From the most simple activity that can be an enjoyable meal or attending a match of my favorite team (micro-flow), to the most complex activities such as participation in a very difficult match (macro flow), the Psychological Flow consists of nine (9) key features:

  1. Equilibrium – skill challenges (challenge-skill balance): is the process where the individual – athlete feels that he/she are able to meet the challenges arising from the conditions of the race because he/she has the right skills and are able to do it. E.g. “I know that the opponent is difficult but I am fit to face them”.
  2. Identification of energy – awareness (awareness merging action): The person during the execution of a task during the race feels that they are an integral part of it and performs automatic movements. E.g. “I didn’t need to think of something – everything was automatically done”.
  3. Clear objectives (clear goals): E.g. “I knew exactly what I had to do.”
  4. Clear feedback (unambiguous feedback): E.g. “I understood very well during the race that I was good”
  5. Ongoing work concentration (concentration on the task): E.g. “I was totally focused on what I did.”
  6. The sense of control (control of sense): The person feels that he is capable of directing its actions in such a way so as to have the desired effect. E.g. “I felt that I had absolute control over what I did”.
  7. Loss of self-consciousness (loss of self-consciousness): the athlete/student coincides perfectly with the ongoing work and performs with confidence. E.g. “I didn’t doubt my ability to succeed in the race.”
  8. Transformation of time (time of transformation): E.g. “I felt as if time did not flow as I raced”
  9. Self-contained experience (autotelic experience): E.g. “I really enjoyed everything.”

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The characteristics of my personality, like for example the high-stress susceptibility, type of sport, the difficulty and the importance of the match, the self-confidence, the belief in my abilities and the high internal motivation are factors affecting the flow.

In conclusion, we could say that the subjective experience, in other words how the person perceives not only his abilities but also the circumstances arising from the challenge faced are those elements that increase or decrease the positive emotions and a sense of psychological flow in a competition.

Anxiety, low self-esteem and having little faith in yourself and in your abilities do not help you to get in a State of flow for a competition.



Emerson, H. (1998). Flow and Occupation. A review of the literature. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 65, 37-44.

Σταύρου, Ν. (2012). Ψυχολογική Ροή: Διαστάσεις, διακριτά σημεία και σχέσεις στον αγωνιστικό αθλητισμό. Κινησιολογία, 49-57

About the author

Frosso Patsou

Sports Psychologist

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