Monday, February 26, 2007

In the "Zone": What Others Think of Flow

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (pictured left) is famous for his naming of and research on "flow," or the point at which heart, mind, and will are all synchronized and working together, and concentration is a conscious-less feat. Flow can be experienced while doing almost anything—from knitting a sweater to computing a math problem—as long as the person is not using conscious thought, the activity is challenging, and his or her skill level meets that of the challenge. Athletes who are experienced in a sport often experience flow, because they are able to play without actively thinking about what they are doing. Most of the time players refer to this as "being in the zone," which is key for confidence and concentration when competing and practicing. This week I found blogs that are about flow and related them to sports through questions and comments (my remarks are available at those posts as well as below). The first response is to Dr. Ted Klontz and Dr. Brad Kontz's post (they are a father and son team), which aims to offer consultation to individuals and companies. I found this post to be well written and thoroughly thought-out, and agreed with much of what they wrote. The second response is to Mr. Ewout Stam's personal post, who regularly writes opinion articles on productivity and software. His piece was very opinionated and at the same time a little too vague.

In response to your post, I found some "strategies" to be confusing: first, I thought flow was only achieved when the person was fully immersed in their activity, and not consciously thinking of what they are doing. For example, people who play sports get so involved in the game that they do not actively think about what move they will make next, but they just know it is the right move to make. If this is true, then would not holding a conversation with someone (which requires much cognitive functioning) not be considered a "flow" activity? Second, the fourth strategy is confusing in that it seems as though "being active" is equated with experiencing flow. Although I certainly agree that taking a proactive jump at life is better than sitting back and watching TV, I think if you said "become good enough at an activity so that flow may be achieved in the future," the statement would hold more true to Csikszentmihaly's ideals. If people start endeavors at which they are not skilled, they experience anxiety or arousal, not flow.

When you say "Flow takes a bit of time to 'get into,'" that brings up many more specific questions in my mind. How long would you say an average athlete takes to get into "flow" during a game? Do you think they jump right in and experience flow from the moment they touch the ball, or may they possibly have to play for a while before they can get into the zone? Or perhaps if they are truly concentrating on their game, they can achieve flow in warmups even before the game has started? Also, what are your thoughts of whether players can be in flow for longer periods of time because they do not really have the distractions of, say, the office? When I watch football, I believe the players only experience flow while the play is going, but as soon as the whistle blows their flow is interrupted. Basketball players on the other hand do not have their plays frequently start and stop, so therefore they can experience flow for longer periods of time. Is flow such a fragile thing that can be broken easily, or is it something that is stronger; something that can withstand a large crowd of fans or a break between plays? Please tell me what you think.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Whoa There, Mom and Dad: Little League Parent Syndrome

Children's games and sports are meant to bring happiness, community, and teamwork all to the same playing ground. National establishments like Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. (PWLS) and the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) are meant to create sportsmanship while also "seek[ing] to develop well-rounded young men and women," so that children learn the importance of fair games and respect early in life. Unfortunately, nowadays the people who need the most sportsmanship education are the select few parents who take theirildren's games a little too seriously. Sports psychologists, concerned about the effects this may have on the children, have coined the term "Little League Parent Syndrome" (LLPS) to describe this unholy trend that is slowly growing more popular with adults—and more detrimental to children—in youth sports.

Some extreme parents, such as coach Cory Petero (pictured left) have even gone so far as to physically assault other parents, players, or referees. Petero, 36, tackled a thirteen year old boy directly after the boy made a late hit on his son during a youth football league game (watch the video here). But he is not the only adult to get too emotionally invested in his kid's youth game—hockey parent Thomas Junta, who brutaly beat another supervising parent after practice one night, let his passions get the best of him as well. Although these stories are not very recent, they serve as prime examples of what is still happening today. At the same time, parents alone are not to blame for the uproar either: pee wee football coach Robert Watson attacked a referee for ejecting him from the game (watch the video here), starting a large, violent brawl in the midst of five and six year olds.

There is no need to discuss how terribly wrong the actions of adults with LLPS are; any person with a minute sense of morals can understand how unacceptable it is to mix violence with children's sports. My focus and concern, rather, is for the children whose lives are directly affected by their surrounding aggressive role models. Youths learn largely from observational learning, or what psychologists call the Social Learning Theory, where "an observer's behavior changes after viewing the behavior of a model." Young athletes look up to the immediate adults in their lives (parents, coaches, and parents of other children) for examples of what is socially appropriate and what is considered taboo. If the adults they admire and mock are modeling the wrong ideals, then how are the children supposed to know what is right and what is wrong? Youths are always told "violence is not the answer," but if they see a "grown-up" being aggressive, how are they supposed to sort out the controversy? The result is a very confused, angry child, with a contradictory parent for a role-model.

Along with the psychological confusion, children are also experiencing first hand violence as a result of LLPS. Studies about the effects of violent households, watching too much gruesome television, or playing sadistic video games (like the one pictured on the right) have all suggested that too much of this influence can result in a more aggressive and hostile adolescent. If watching television and playing video games can influence a child's aggressiveness, then watching a live brawl (in which their parents are participating) is sure to make the youth more susceptible to hostility later in life. Therefore, as human beings, we have a responsibility to our children to set good examples and be righteous role models, so that they may follow in our footsteps and lead the best lives possible. If we fail to show our descendants the right choices in life, from whom will they learn? It is imperative that the Little League Parent Syndrome stops completely; not for the sake of stopping violence, but for the sake of the children who are watching.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Prayers to the God of Sports: Comments on fans and their relation to sports

The goal of the blogosphere is to virtually connect people and their ideas at an exceptional rate. The point of leaving comments on a person’s post is to give them feedback about their thoughts, and to also create deliberation between members of the online world. Therefore, I feel it is necessary to write a blog dedicated to networking and probing, thoughtful commentary within this expanse of information. The point of this is not to prove any point, make negative comments, or to put others down with criticism, but to simply reply to others’ blogs and ideas, and to provoke discussion. I chose the following posts by other people to be fascinating and well thought out, with clearly stated ideas and stimulating discussion topics, so I decided to comment on their articles (I have posted the same comments below for easier access). In no way are my comments meant to offend; they are simply there for the sake of setting up connections and hopefully causing others to participate in the discussion as well.

Permanent Links:

In response to: “Think you’ve got magical powers?” by Emily Pronin

As an avid sports fan, I love to believe that I have some sort of influence over what is happening on the field or court. As you wrote, it does in fact make me feel hope for my team, and lets me believe that I in some way contribute to the game. However, common sense tells me that none of my efforts to cross my fingers in just the right way will actually make a difference. Despi
te all of this, I still think that my wishful thinking helps—in a very indirect yet significant way. I am a competitive cheerleader, and I know that it feels different to walk into a venue full of teams rooting against you, versus a venue full of your supportive friends. I know that even a stranger who supports you can make a difference as to how you perform, and that their energy and encouraging aura help with the mental part of the game immensely. So in regards to your live basketball game study with Mr. Wegner, Ms. Rodriguez, and Ms. McCarthy, I do not completely agree with your assumption that fans may not have influence on the game, simply because the mere support of the fans can mean a lot to a player. Could it be that fans believe they have some control over the game because they actually affect the players’ psyches? I wonder if you had already taken this into consideration, and if so, how did you account for this factor?

In response to: “Is Sports the New Religion?” by the National CAtO Post News Service

As I read this article, I was convinced more and more that some people do in fact treat sports as if it were a religion. I can agree with the comparisons between facets of religion and certain aspects of sport fan behavior. I would also like to point out that like religion, people turn to sports when they need something to believe in if they are feeling down and hopeless. For example, watching a football game temporarily puts my negative feelings on hold and acts like a momentary outlet for bad moods. I personally believe religion came about because people had an innate need for support and hope during bad situations. I think a perfect parallel can be drawn from religion to the world of sports—it provides inspiration to those who seek it, and also give fans and participants a sense of importance and purpose. Sports can lift the spirits of a fan or athlete, which is why there are so many people who participate in some kind of sport activity.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Back to Basics: Setting America’s Priorities Straight

There is no doubt sports are beneficial in many ways. Playing a sport, like the little leaguers pictured on the right, is not only good for the body, but it can also foster good work ethic, teach teamwork, develop self-esteem, promote sportsmanship, and even reduce depression. Most people would probably say sports are a great part of American culture, and that people who play sports are better for it. To a certain extent, I agree with this opinion. However, I also believe most people do not realize some aspects of sports have evolved beyond the realm of good intentions and become harmful to the American value system.

For instance, athletes live on a comparable level of publicity and stardom to some national leaders. I, frankly, talk about Reggie Bush, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre more than I gossip about President Bush or Osama Bin Laden. How is it that an athlete can be more important to the masses than someone with a nuclear bomb at their fingertips? The answer: American culture is absurdly flawed. True importance and relevance to society, no matter how charitable, cannot compete with the stardom and awe which accompany the world of sports. The priorities of the American people are skewed, and most are completely unaware of it.

Look at the difference in wages between an average professional football player and an average public high school teacher. The NFL
(National Football League) 2005 average player in the league earned about $600,000. Compare this to the average public high school teacher now makes about $40,500. Now compare the impact a professional football player directly has on a teenager to the impact a high school teacher has on the same child. The football player serves as a role model, but normally never directly has contact or influences the child in any way. The teacher, on the other hand, is constantly shaping the child on a daily basis, and has almost as much influence as a parent. The importance of the teacher in the child’s life is much more significant than the influence of the football player. Why, then, are football players paid almost 15 times as much as teachers, when teachers have a direct impact on the children of the future? America’s priorities are all wrong—fame and celebrity are valued over essential jobs, and the salaries of occupations reflect it.

The fact of the matter is: a portion of the money and time devoted to sports should be given to charities, educational funds, and other fundamental groups in need, so that America can help its needy citizens. One average football player’s salary could cover all of the administrative expenses
of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) for a year. If Shaquille O’Neal of Miami Heat in the National Basketball Association (NBA) gave half of his $20 million 2006 salary away, he could fund all of Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust’s (DAV) expenses for more than five years.

Sports, in general, are meant to be positive experiences; and, for the most part, they are filled with benefits for the player and society. Americans have simply taken sports one step too far, in that the once team-centered experience is now an overly commercialized industry. Let us not lose sight of what is important in life, and not spend superfluous amounts of time and money on sports. Instead, we should re-analyze our priorities and use those resources to fix the obvious social problems in America, so that it can become a better place to live.