This psychological concept is my drug.
I want to share it with you, and like a drug dealer the first one is always free! Actually this one is already inside you and won’t cost a thing. You just might not know it, or have found it yet.
I first came across this concept when studying Sport Psychology at university. Flow is a prerequisite to being ‘in the zone’ and achieving Peak Performance. Athletes know what they are capable of, and often achieve it in training. But they don’t always perform to their best, or achieve Flow in every moment of competition. Why not? When they are in Flow they do.
Wikipedia describes it as when “a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”. Notice here the parallels with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The results or outcome don’t matter here, it is the getting lost in the enjoyment or challenge of the activity, just for the activity in itself.
But it’s not just athletes in sport. Musicians, artists, surgeons and mathematicians have all described being in a state of Flow. Even inventors:
This is the best quote I have seen to encapsulate it succinctly. It’s by Nikola Tesla, the man who invented or developed our understanding of many technologies that underpin our everyday modern lives – electricity, radio, laser, remote control and x-ray to name a few.
So, what’s required?
- An assessment that the situation matches your skills, that you’re in a real challenge or test.
- Sometimes a stretch of the current skills, ie where learning occurs and mistakes are made.
- A clear goal, or activity. That’s the vision or invention Nikola was describing that drives him in the above quote.
- Avoid interruptions. Flow can’t be multi-tasked because by definition it is total concentration.
- Focus on the process in itself, not the end or the result.
My experiences of Flow have been in a few games of football I’ve played when everything clicked and I did what I knew I could. Confidence and momentum grows during the match. And you play like you play in your head.
This poster above is one of my most prized possessions, pictured here with my favourite little cousin Ethan in my Capital Futsal office in 2011. It’s a Ryan Nelsen Nike poster, from 2005 before he was famous and carried New Zealand to, and through a World Cup unbeaten in 2010. I also got it signed by the man himself in white twink pen. It combines my love for football, sport psychology and marketing together. And it so concisely summarises what Flow is. “Play like you play in your head.”
I have also experienced it over a larger period of time too. Particularly in 2010-2013 when I was lost in growing Futsal in Wellington. In this interview, I couldn’t even say what I wanted long term. I wasn’t looking, planning or thinking about anything other than the project I was in. Like Nikola I had a vision of something that I wanted to see unfold. I believed I could do it and it matched my skills; the challenge was huge but I believed it was possible. I hit all of the five prerequisites above.
But I was a workaholic. I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to get to work, and a typical Monday was a 645am training with St Pats, admin, meeting and coaching schools during the day, through to running and overseeing the leagues until 10pm. When I look back, that period in my life is a bit of a blur. It made me forget about everything else, including what was good for me. Sleep was erratic, my diet was poor and I didn’t play football or futsal as much, prioritising work and coaching.
I made some changes then, and I learned more about balance. I set myself the fitness goal to swim to work by Christmas. I lived and worked by the ocean in Wellington, 4km from my flat to the sports centre. And my day started with cooking healthy lunch in the morning. I felt so much healthier and better for it, which allowed me to work better. Today, I still start my day by preparing a day’s worth of healthy food.
More recently, I started writing to spread my passion and knowledge for futsal which has opened up to a range of topics from raising girls to searching for who I am. This has developed into a passion I didn’t know I had, and I’m really grateful I can do it for work now too. It’s funny that my Grandad was a journalist but it’s only in the last two years I have really discovered the passion for writing myself.
I long for the day though, when I can get back to being in that constant state of Flow like I was in building futsal in Wellington and creating the Flying Kiwis. And it probably won’t happen again until I have my own project or run my own business.
I want to end with a snippet of an interview I did in 2011 with a then writing student Connor Clements, who writes at https://imnoconman.wordpress.com/ . I’ve attached his full article below which so beautifully and concisely encapsulates a pivotal moment in the history of football in New Zealand. The way he so aptly describes what I was saying shows that passion and being lost in the moment I was experiencing. I’m really grateful to Connor for recording a snapshot of this time in my life.
“I travelled to the ASB performance centre in Kilbirnie, for a coaching course under the authority of the Whole of Football Plan. The course was run by the Capital Futsal Development Officer Matt Fejos. At the moment Matt coaches and works full-time at the centre. Matt responded to my questions in a very professional and calm manner, demonstrating the passion which has seen him work countless volunteer hours for Capital futsal. I learn it was through this tireless service that Matt eventually earned his job.
…Matt provides perspective on how the two strategies are affecting Capital Futsal and the Wellington Football Federation. “The cool thing to think about now is the players that are coming through now… there is this next generation of younger players… there are young guys overseas and the girls as well, and that’s really exciting… Wellington is way ahead of the country in girl’s numbers, there’s girls who are ten, twelve, who play girls only [leagues]and are playing from a younger age”, he says. Then he gestures animatedly, splaying his hands a metre apart on the table, and then lifting them upwards to emphasise his point. “The plan will give us [Capital and NZ Football] a wider base, which we can then improve from”.
Are you going with the flow in your life?
It all comes back to the bigger questions of who you are and why you do what you do.
Have you experienced Flow? Can you do it at work or do you have a hobby?
Connor’s full article is below.
The Football Foundation and Whole of Football Plan
Football in New Zealand on the rise as NZ Football capitalises on the sport’s current popularity
The two-legged playoff with the fifth-placed Asian confederation side Bahrain is into its second stage. Our national football team ground out a memorable 0-0 draw in the first leg at Bahrain.
The year is 2010, the scene: Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, where 30,000 New Zealand football (soccer) fans noisily wait for kick-off. The whistle blows. The match begins.
What happens next will never be forgotten by the fans, those at the game, and the one million or so glued to their television sets. A Rory Fallon header from a Leo Bertos corner on the stroke of halftime, and a stunning Mark Paton penalty save seals the All Whites a famous 1-0 win, and a place in history. And the fans are still singing, long after the final has whistle blown.
Flashback to the 1982 appearance of the All Whites at the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) World Cup in Spain and the last time the white and black shirts of our footballers were part of a major international event (arguably the most popular sporting event in the world).
Celebration: could this become a familiar sight for New Zealand football fans at future World Cup finals?
Frank Van Hattum was the Goalkeeper in the three losses against the Soviet Union, Scotland and the Brazilians at Spain 82’ and the chairman of New Zealand Football 28 years later, in 2010, that magical year when New Zealand qualified and played for the World Cup in South Africa. He has 49 caps for the All Whites, was chairman of Capital Football from 2000 to 2005, and has served as a board member of NZ Football from 2006. Frank remains the chairman of New Zealand Football; he is also a FIFA committee member and is on the board of the NZ Football Foundation. Frank oversees the entire Whole of Football Plan and is a trustee of the Foundation.
His thoughts on both of the strategies are invaluable, “The Whole of Football Plan is new and developing. The principal is right. If kids start kicking the ball around lots of times; it stands to reason they will be better athletes and performers. It’s no different than when I was a kid. We played football seven days a week, in a fun and casual environment as well as organised. This is just a more formalised, consistent, approach”. He was heavily involved in the planning and implementation of both.
Frank explains the structured and formal plan that demonstrates NZ Football has taken action. “It [the Whole of Football Plan]is a coordinated and consistent approach to junior football development with the basic premise that getting more kids to play and touch the ball more often will be more fun and make for better players”. It’s evident. The Whole of Football Plan is extremely important to NZ Football; it will play a massive part in the future growth of football in this country, if correctly implemented. “It is delivered through the federations and involves ensuring coaches and resource material assist in creating the right amount of skill development, fun and organisation and focus on what really improves a football player”.
Opportunity: Frank Van Hattum is leading NZ Football into a brighter future.
Qualifying and performing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup was a moment to savour. However, there was no time for NZ Football to rest on its laurels. Now it was up to NZ Football to take full advantage of the sudden popularity explosion and new found awareness of football in this country.
Enter the New Zealand Football Foundation. The Foundation recently granted NZD 4 million by NZ Football, of an original USD 10 million grant from FIFA to all 32 nations that qualified and competed in the group stages of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The money has been distributed across NZ’s football programme. To grow football and challenge rugby for the title of NZ’s most popular sport.
The NZ Football Foundation is an individual organisation separate from NZ Football. “The foundation can assist but does ensure any individual grant is in accordance with the development principals and strategies of NZF… [my]active involvement is the odd meeting, reviewing the grants rounds (2 per year) and seeking [public]support, looking for opportunities to help grow this fund”, Frank says, after he was originally heavily involved in setting it up.
Andrew Clements is chairman of the Foundation. My father. He sits across from me at the living room table, leaning back in the cushioned, hard-back chair. Recently returned from his typical nine-hour work day, Andrew is smartly dressed, with an immaculate white long-sleeved, collared, business shirt with buttons done all the way up, tie secured, and long black dress pants unruffled. We fall into conversation immediately. Because we’re father and son, it’s easy to get him talking and football is never far from our minds. Andrew treats this interview as relaxation after a long day at the office, so he offers me a cold beverage from the fridge and starts sipping away at his own, chilled, soft-drink. He retakes his casual position of nonchalance, smiles slightly and waits patiently, while the recorder delays the interview start and I fumble ineptly with its buttons.
A corporate bigwig as well as a keen Liverpool fan (after a trip from New Zealand to England in his 20’s) he knows a fair bit about running companies, being on the board of others and football history. He’s had 40 years of football duties: with experience as a player, representative, manager, coach and board member. He’s coached girls, boys, mens, school, and club teams at junior, youth and senior level. He has managed my sister and me for years, me from age 5-15, and my sister from age 14-16. After endless hours of driving me to games, running practices for my team, and refereeing games or shouting from the side-lines, dad’s devotion to the game is evident. The five league titles with Clevedon teams I played in from 8th to 11th grade and four division one winners’ medals for Fencibles in the Auckland Football League from 12th to 15th grade show his unwavering passion for the sport. He is the man for the job, that’s for sure.
My thoughts of past glories are interrupted as Andrew’s voice rumbles into my brain. “When the All Whites won through to the World Cup , there was a lot of planning put in by some people who had been around in the 1980’s when they [the All Whites]had previously got into the World Cup”.
He’s responding to questions in a verbal cacophony of tactics, strategies and game plans that the Football Foundation and NZ Football are putting into place. “The goal is to ensure that everything in football is consistent and there is a real focus on delivering high quality coaching and areas for development at kids, youth and senior levels [men and women]… it is necessary for our teams to gain more international exposure, so now you see a big focus on things like the Under 17 girls, the Under 20’s, the Under 17 boys, the All Whites themselves and the Oly Whites [NZ Under 23’s] winning through to the Olympics”.
Andrew highlights the growth of women’s football and the development of outstanding players, such as Rosie White and Hannah Wilkinson (currently at UCLA and Tennessee respectively on football scholarships) as something that demonstrates what NZ Football’s ambitions are; improving young girls and boys, so they contribute and grow from U17 level, to U20 level, U23 level and up to the seniors rapidly. “You can definitely see that [the development]with some of the players that have appeared for the ferns, some of them have played at all those levels, even within the last couple of years”. The increased international exposure and tough games against other quality football playing nations certainly have, and will continue, to facilitate the growth process.
Development: The talent shown by players coming through the NZ Football programme such as Rosie White (above) indicate that NZ may be making progress in player growth.
Andrew is candid about the work the Foundation has done and is continuing to do, for kiwis across the country. “The role of the Football Foundation is to grow the football family, to have a long-term view about supporting initiatives to help football develop in New Zealand in general, so we took the four million dollars and we are getting other small donations to add to that, we take that and we invest it in banks, funny enough with the ASB as they are the main sponsor of NZ Football. Each six months we take the interest and we ask for applications and from those applications we [the NZ Football Foundation board]determine who we think are the most worthy recipients”.
In Charge: Andrew Clements, Chairman of the New Zealand Football Foundation
Andrew gives me an example of a case that the Foundation has already donated to. He was happy to oblige. “Recently we provided a hundred dollars per child in the national training centres which are held twice a year in three different centres and that involves all the high talent, promising kids, ages 11,12,13,14,15 round the country”.
I travelled to the ASB performance centre in Kilbirnie, for a coaching course under the authority of the Whole of Football Plan. The course was run by the capital futsal development officer Matt Fejos. At the moment Matt coaches and works full time at the centre. Matt responded to my questions in a very professional and calm manner, demonstrating the passion which has seen him work countless volunteer hours for Capital futsal. I learn it was through this tireless service that Matt eventually earned his job.
The Foundation donated money to Capital Futsal: “from memory it was a couple of grand, $3200… we put forward an application for the capital under-nineteen team to travel to the FFA (Football Federation Australia) nationals in Canberra” Matt says. “Capital put their recommendations to NZ Football and it wasn’t the highest on the list for Capital, but the Football Foundation picked it”. Matt agrees with Andrew, citing player development (through futsal) as an area that is already improving. “Let the game be the teacher… more people are coming on board… it’s about more quality environments for players to develop, with more touches on the ball, smaller space, but also that long-term motivation to fall in love with the game young”.
Matt provides perspective on how the two strategies are affecting Capital Futsal and the Wellington Football Federation. “The cool thing to think about now is the players that are coming through now… there is this next generation of younger players… there are young guys overseas and the girls as well, and that’s really exciting… Wellington is way ahead of the country in girl’s numbers, there’s girls who are ten, twelve, who play girls only [leagues]and are playing from a younger age”, he says. Then he gestures animatedly, splaying his hands a metre apart on the table, and then lifting them upwards to emphasise his point. “The plan will give us [Capital and NZ Football] a wider base, which we can then improve from”.
Matt credits studying sports psychology at Victoria University in Wellington as essential to improving his understanding of football, futsal and how they will develop with the implementation of the Whole of Football Plan. “Fortunately enough through studying sports psych at uni its all consistent with that knowledge of what I learned about getting away from results at all costs… futsal fits perfectly with The Whole of Football Plan”.
Capital: received money from the Foundation and supports the strategies being implemented by NZ Football.
I ask Andrew about how The Whole of Football Plan relates to the Football Foundation. Wanting to understand how the strategies integrate, if they do at all. Andrew’s response is brief, but sums up how both plans relate to each other in a single, simple, sentence. “While the Foundation is very aware of and supportive of the Whole of Football Plan, we don’t directly support the Whole of Football Plan although indirectly sometimes the stuff that we do helps them achieve it”.
The Foundation is helping people round the country; all federations are included, not just capital football and futsal. All applications are considered. “We’re about supporting things all over New Zealand in all sorts of areas, whether it be training coaches, supporting referees, helping kids travel who otherwise couldn’t afford to travel” Andrew says. “Also, FIFA very kindly donated an extra USD $350,000 to Christchurch after the earthquake and the Foundation administered that and worked with Mainland football to direct that into (football) recovery projects over the next one to two years”.
Football in this country has come a long way since 1982. This time NZ Football has taken the opportunity to grow the sport and capitalise on the success of our All Whites appearance on sports greatest stage, the FIFA World Cup. Together, The Whole of Football Plan and the NZ Football Foundation will ensure football in New Zealand flourishes.
You can read more stories at our author’s blog here.