Group Flow and Peak Performance in Athletics—and More

Seventeenth century Poet John Donne famously penned the words “No Man Is An Island,” later recanted in many works, including a 1955 book by Trappist monk Thomas Merton, a 1962 film about an American sailor in Guam, and even a 1964 song by The Van Dykes. It seems that throughout time, thought leaders and others have understood that while we may do all right alone, we are that much better in groups. Just think of a successful team.

For decades, group training has remained at the top of the health club hit list, high on Saturday morning running club agendas and at Sunday skate-a-thons. It seems that in groups, participants find motivation, support, collaboration and fundamentally the power to power through—more so than in a solitary act. When a shared goal is on the horizon, the shared responsibility to get everyone there can be a potent incentive for peak performance.

But while all that may be well and good, just what is “flow,” and what does it have to do with peak performance in groups?

According to noted psychologist, study of positive psychology pundit and the aptly named “father of flow” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “’flow’ is a state of optimal consciousness (aka ‘being in the zone’) that allows you to focus on the task at hand and perform your best.”* Flow is also about feeling equal to the task, and being in control of our actions and environment so that moving from one point to another is an unimpeded act.

Essential to peak performance, flow propels one seamlessly through one’s efforts, toward other efforts, and still more efforts, as mind and body become almost indistinguishable from one another in their quest to reach that goal.

In yoga, vinyasa flow is a form of the discipline where one posture leads seamlessly to the next, and the next—the result essentially one continuous movement lasting the duration of the session. While flow is achievable by oneself, the addition of a group is said to be empowering so that, as the adage goes, the concept of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Do you find yourself ducking out of a 45-minute yoga or cardio DVD in your living room after just 15 minutes? In a class with 20 others, or even five others, the thought may not cross your mind as energy appears to feed off other energy, and the shared goal of getting through the class is ample fuel.

Aside from exercise, research has shown that when a group works together and finds flow, it is more likely to resolve conflict, come up with creative solutions and basically blast off. Symphony orchestras, rock bands, theatre and ballet troupes, and athletic teams are prime examples of peak performance attained by group flow.

According to experts, creating flow is the key to mastery—or peak performance. In a group effort, achieving flow on a multiplied scale (group flow) provides great motivation on the road to attaining peak performance.



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