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FLOW in High Performance Rugby Players

Flow in the psychology world, and the concept of FLOW has been around for a while. However in the coaching world or in even in the work place I don't believe it is a concept that coaches are actively look to put their players in. IF the concept of FLOW is a reality and being in the 'State of Flow' allows for greater performances then why are we as coaches not looking to aim to have our player achieve a 'State of Flow' every time they take the field?

On the field in high performance rugby (or any sport) the things that separate teams and players comes down to 4 basic concepts:

  • Their fitness levels and their ability to compete on the physical level

  • Tactical awareness and understanding or either from the individual or the team structure

  • The technical ability to perform and execute the required skills in order to be successful on the field

  • Having the mental capacity to handle and cope with the 'pressure' that performance at the top level requires.

These days players have S&C coaches and the facilities, knowledge and nutrition to be in their top physical condition so its rare that the physical elements are the answer to having top level performances. Yes I know this could be argued, and how training intensities and sessions etc all come into effect but and it seems to be all the craze these days that you train harder than you play (obvious). As coaches know one is teaching or coaching anything differently it all just comes down to preference or philosophy's of player or policy's around certain parts of the game.

I truly believe it is the coaches job to try and get the best out of their players each time the player steps on to the field. The player should never come off the field thinking 'that was easy' even if the competition they are playing as at a 'lower level', there is always something players can get from every time they step onto the field. So then how do we as coaches create an environment for players to perform at their best? For me one of the answers (and there are many) is FLOW!

If you are unsure what FLOW is then I will explain first 'Why' you want your players in a 'State of Flow'.

WHY: Putting players in a state of flow will: Increase the levels of performance, increase levels of enjoyment and also for a higher probability of achieving outcomes & also learning.

WHEN: As a coach you have number of opportunities to put your players in Flow: Warm up, Games, Feedback, Selections & goals / standards ( I will go into further detail below)

HOW: How you get players into a state of Flow is difficult and the image below will explain more about this it effectively comes down to two things. Internal Triggers & External Triggers.

WHAT: Next I guess it would be nice to know WHAT flow is? Its effectively a psychological state of mind that heightens levels of focus, provides a loss of self and allowing you to be truly in the moment and allows for increased mental capabilities.

The image above has been made from research from Csikiszentmihalyi (the original researcher who developed the concept of FLOW) and Kotler. It explains what flow is and how to achieve it and then the 3 stage process that you have to go through in order to achieve FLOW.

Being in a 'State of Flow' bring order into consciousness and blocks out any negative thoughts or emotions. Time speeds up and the outside world is blocked out. What happens is that the neocortex (the frontal lobe of the brain) stops working, this part of the brain is the part that allows for rational thinking and decision making, the limbic brain takes over and this is the more animalistic section of the brain so decision making and actions become instinctive. Due to this there is a heighten level of concentration to the task at hand and a loss of self and increased mental capabilities allowing you to become more efficient & effective.

FLOW is brought about by Internal triggers & External triggers .

These challenges need to be attainable but also with a possibility of 'failure'. A challenge to easy and the brain will get bored, to easy and it will get bored. Once you have a challenge that is about 4% higher than your best you then can achieve this you have to keep resetting the challenge.

External trigger have to be novelty and unpredictable to keep the brain guessing and also needs some sort of deep embodiment.

During these triggers the body goes through three phases before it reaches its flow state.


You probably have heard of the old saying 'deer in the head lights'. What this is a biological response to danger. Fight Flight or Freeze. What we want is our players to get the sense of 'fight'. This fills the body with adrenaline which means that the brain and the body is ready for action. If the players get flight they might find a reason to not play or get emotional. The freeze reaction is one we are defiantly not looking for. This Fight not means that body is primed for FLOW state.


Due to Phase 1 the body then releases other chemicals into the body such as dopamine and endorphin's two of the body's feel good chemicals. This then put the body in to a relaxation state and due to the feel good chemical makes the player feel good about the situation and they go from the fight state to a a happy place where they are enjoying what it is they are going and how they are doing it.


After the 2nd phase the body only has to recover. You cant have players in FLOW state all the time. Its biologically not feasible. The recovery period is very important to be able to get back into a flow state at a later time. Players have to have the ability to switch off and not think about what's going on, and allow the brain to rest and reset before asking it to go through the flow state again.

The FLOW process is an important one and as coaches it is our responsibility to understand this process and to put our players though it. Below explains in slightly more detail how we can start to provide an environment for players to start to achieve a 'Flow State of Mind'

Warm Up

The warm up is a key component of achieving FLOW in the game. Traditionally warm ups involve a number of things that are directly involved with the game itself. What I have found is that if the warm up has the following (below) that performances increases and the reasons why is not because of the physical readiness but the what goes on between the ears.

•Motor Skills

•Cognitive Skills

•Decision making

•Unpredictability & Fun

•Physically Strenuous (Contact)

•Different Each Time

Game or Competition

The level of competition is important to achieve flow. To easy and distractions will seep in to hard and the stretch will be to hard to achieve. If the challenge is 4% harder than your best this is a level of challenge that is obtainable. This is not to say that you have to win games to achieve flow. Often the close games where a team wins or loses by one score players are in flow because of the challenge that is in front of them.

It is the coaches job & responsibility to set high standards that players need to achieve and have goals for them to hit. This will push players to perform at a level that they are striving for. This could be a simple measurement e.g. to win 70% of kick offs. These high standards allows people to focus on performing at their best.


Positive feedback, no one fails. No one does anything wrong, its learning. Players should go away with confidence in their performance & ability to succeed and achieve their goals & standards that have been laid out.

  • Keep focus on what you are good at and enjoy

  • The feedback should be around what they excel in and what they are best at .

  • Don’t allow them to think about the work on’s keep their thinking towards what they are good at.

  • Strength based feedback & psychology


  • Keep players guessing, no one is able to feel comfortable, its cant become repetitive and boring.

  • If you select the same side over and over then players will get comfortable. Keeping the starting side changing this give a sense of unpredictability and energy that they need to perform in the game or when they get the opportunity to start.

  • Focus on team performance not score line

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