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A personal observation on "flow"

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
The last week or so most of the orthopedic issues I normally deal with (at 50 I think most people have their share, perhaps I've had a bit more than my share) have seemed to have fallen to their lowest level in a long time. At the same time I am moving on the tennis court and hitting the ball better than I ever thought I could. While I recognize that I have slowed down and lost some strength with age, I am amazed with the level of foot movement and power I can generate compared to last week and perhaps the last 5-10 years. With the "flow" I am able to achieve all of a sudden, I am able to get to distant balls, set-up, and nail them even though just last week I considerd such balls too far to do anything but weakly retrieve them.

I think I am seeing a result of a personal learning philosophy that has paid off. It is one that focuses on development of perceptions as opposed to technique, that is, establishment of goals based on learning to identifiy the feeling of "what" you are doing or would like to do as opposed to "how" or "why" you are doing it. Having focused on the "what" in tennis for a good while I am now able to instantly take advantage during this time when my joints are not inhibiting movement to as great of an extent as normal.

I find this to have direct analogies to skiing. People talk about "flow" in skiing all the time. Instructors and coaches to some extent try to convey the concept and help their students achieve this level of learning all the time. From my experience and observations, however, most lessons, clinics, camps, etc. focus way too much on the "how" and "why" as opposed to the "what." I think the proportionality between these certainly needs to vary based on a skier's level, abilities, personality, learning style, etc. However, I believe that on average ski instruction and coaching are considerably off base in their emphasis along these lines.

I think this discussion goes towards the art vs. science one. Science is typically concerned with the "hows" and the "whys," and mostly in a quantitative sense with the "what's" (outcomes). Is it mostly left for the individual to find the perceptions and feelings of the "what's" for themselves or can coaches and instructors make significant contributions here?
post #2 of 6

Sounds fascinating and I'd like to hear more. Can you talk a little about specifically what you've been doing differently, why you've adopted this different approach and how you learned about it. Sounds as though it would be directly applicable to skiing!

post #3 of 6
Si said However, I believe that on average ski instruction and coaching are considerably off base in their emphasis along these lines.

I am not sure I agree. Concentrating on the "what" works for you because you have the skill and a level of understanding (the "how" and the "why") to be able to concentrate on the objectives (the "what"). Beginners need to know "how" and "why", before they can leap to the "what" they want to do. It really is that simple, I think.
post #4 of 6
SI and Tom, I think I agree with both of you. I think it's all needed in every good lesson. I know with begginers in particular I try very hard to find a transfer of an experience to work with something the student has done for the shear joy and fun of it, and try to help them develop a mental picture of them doing that during their first slide(s), and even on further. Like sleding or sliding on a frozen puddle, or slipping in the mud. Along with the hows and whys, we need to give even begginers the feelings asociated with what we do this for. Even to the point of yelling yoohoo, just like they were sliding at home in their driveway. I find the how and why goes down better with a little, or a lot honey.

Same with higher level skiers. Help them make the fun connection and add to their experience and the how and why of changes go down much easier. Just my take. Good points all. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 
Tamski, here's a tennis and skiing example along the line of "feel." Often you can see a player using a lot of wrist or "muscle" (arm tension) in their strokes in an attempt to make good and effective contact with the ball. Typical suggestions might include "relax your wrist", "hold your wrist steady", "use this or that grip and hold it," etc. In a "what" oriented approach I might suggest for myself or another that they just simply focus on "quality contact." Now, of course, if this has no meaning then it's of no value. But if these types of concepts are used from the beginning they become quite effective.

I think we can draw an almost exact analogy with this to skiing. We can talk about weight shifts, tipping, lifting, pole plants, etc. to try and help ourselves or someone else to make a good turn. But we can alternatively focus on the "quality" of contact between the ski and snow as an alternative goal and outcome measure. Again, there needs to be some understanding of "quality" of snow contact to have this work at all.

Now, TomB's point about beginners needing more of the how's and why's is well taken. However, I wouldn't necessarily agree that beginners can't start right from the beginning with the "what's" as well. In one published study this type of approach was compared to a more technique oriented approach in teachnig complete novices to play table tennis. The results demonstrate some significant advantages to an approach such as the one I describe even with complete novices. In this regard, Ric B's comments about always combining the what's with the how's and why's (and in my opinion trying to not overdue the how's and why's) right from the beginning is something I definitely buy into. Also, I would reiterate the point that for the advanced skier this is even more of an issue and perhaps even postulate that in general (certainly there are exceptions here) one of the reason's advanced skiers take such few lessons is that there is too much focus on how's and why's.

Of course there are no absolutes here. I only am bringing up this idea in postulation and would love to hear further discussion on both sides.
post #6 of 6
I'm gonna jump in here.. we learned all about this in one of my outdoor rec. courses this year...in simple terms here, flow is the level of optimal arousal, or a balance between skill level and challenge. So, if you are playing tennis and are quite experienced, and are being challenged just enough by your partner, you will experience this "flow" you were referring to. Characteristics of flow include loss of time and loss of self-conciousness, and it can actually become quite addicting. The more you experience flow, the more you will want to get back to that "zone". (think skiing powder!) Many long-distance runners frequently experience flow. Flow may be mental or physical. Chess players can experience flow!
On the other hand, if you are an excellent tennis player and your partner isn't, then your skill level will not match up with the challenge, so you will experience boredom. OR... if you are an inexperienced tennis player playing against, say, Venus Williams, you will experience anxiety because your skill level does not match up with the challenge. This is an important concept for me as an instructor, and a reason to always keep my lessons interesting yet keep everyone comfortable.
Hope this makes sense to anyone who reads this. No matter what sport you do, or how good you are at it, if there is an even match of skill and challenge, you will experience flow.. and it is an amazing feeling!!
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