Each year, hundreds of soccer books are published with some great advice and insights. While these books may help a reader in the short term, most books (if you’re a published author do not send hate mail, the word “most” was used and you can place yourself in the minority if it makes you feel better) offer no advice on how to enjoy the game.
Soccer books published for kids fail to ask the right questions.
What really makes children feel alive?
What makes them happy?
What are the experiences that make soccer worthwhile?
“More than anything else, men and women seek happiness” Aristotle
Now let me ask you a question. Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that you lost track of time or even your surroundings?
Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that all your problems for that moment just vanished? All problems including financial, problems at home and even the hard ass boss that awaits you every morning at work.
Although I wasn’t aware of this state while I was playing, I certainly did experience it.
Today I want to talk about a concept referred to as “flow”.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity
To put it simply, flow is completely focused motivation. This concept was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and after decades of research has produced this little gem.
“What makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow- a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity”
Children can achieve this state of flow with any drill, as long as the conditions and the environment are right.
Imagine that, young kids focused and concentrating on the drill instead of fooling around.
7 Steps to Flow
1-Kids must be challenged by the drill or training session.
The difficulty level of a drill has to be “just right”. If the drill is too easy, your child will get bored and eventually stop, finding refuge in kicking the loose mud around. On the other hand, if the drill is too difficult, your child will get frustrated and eventually wave the white flag. Either way, you lose.
2-Kids must have the ability to concentrate on the drill.
Your child needs to focus and understand the purpose of the drill. All distractions must be removed. Without concentration, you cannot enter the state of flow. The most frequently mentioned characteristic of flow is the ability to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life. This happens because the drill will require such concentration that only a small range of information can be allowed into the jelly marshmallow encased in your skull.
The benefit of this is significant as your child will stop worrying about looking good or making mistakes because he will be fully immersed at the task at hand.
3-Goals, Goals, Goals…..
If you do not set goals your child will inevitably fail. Goals create a mechanism to measure progress, development and allows you to establish a benchmark or baseline for future reference.
Completing drills that are coupled with set goals also provides a sense of achievement. Children in the state of flow always achieve their goals.
Simplicity is the key here. Children must learn how to set goals and understand why they are completing the drill. Once they master this, the feedback they receive from the coach or you is symbolic and has enormous power. What makes feedback valuable in this environment is the feeling that your child has succeeded in achieving his goal.
“This happens when energy-concentration is invested in realistic goals and when skills match the opportunity for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else”
4-Feedback not Criticism!
With clear goals linked to drills, you know immediately if your child is improving and what areas need improving.
The creation of awareness.
5-Don’t Worry, Be Happy
This is the number 1 benefit of achieving flow. Your child is so busy concentrating on the drill that all other problems seem to evaporate into thin air.
“When not preoccupied with ourselves, we actually have a chance to expand the concept of who we are. Loss of self consciousness can lead to self-transcendence, to a feeling that the boundaries of our being have been pushed forward” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
6-Control without being Controlled
The challenge of the drill must accurately match the skill level of your child. Get this wrong and your child will never enter the state of flow.
“The flow experience is typically described as involving a sense of control, or more precisely, as lacking the sense of worry about losing control that is typical in many situations of normal life”
What children (and most parents) enjoy is not the sense of being in control but the sense of exercising control in difficult, challenging situations. In other words, not blowing a gasket.
7-Time is Forgotten
If you get the conditions right, the drill becomes an autotelic experience.
The word autotelic derives from two Greek words, “auto” meaning self and “telos” meaning end. It refers to an activity that is not completed with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the drill is the reward and the completion of a goal.
Most parents would argue, “this sounds great but I have no control over the training sessions”.
Here’s what you can do
As discussed above, create clarity through goals and don’t forget to always praise EFFORT!
- Let your child know that you’re interested in them and their soccer career. Always speak to them in the present tense and make no reference to the future as this could add unnecessary pressure.
- Let your child choose his goals and let them know soccer is a choice, as opposed to the end of the world.
- Ensure your child feels safe and protected. Through love based soccer you will develop trust that allows your child to play freely without fear.
- Provide challenges that accurately match their skill set.
Watching kids play soccer is stimulating and enjoyable under the right conditions. But when soccer becomes about winning and takes precedence over development, the enjoyment tends to evaporate before your very eyes.
Addicted to Flow
For the last 17 months I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The alarm gets set at 5.30am and I travel in the darkness to get to the gym.
To everybody’s amazement I’m addicted and have not missed a session unless travelling interstate for work. I’ve even discussed with my partner training every day. My friends are quietly analyzing what they think is a midlife crisis.
But every morning when I put on my Gi, the following occurs in a pool of sweat.
I’m challenged- learning new techniques and rolling (Jiu Jitsu word for wrestling) with more advanced students isn’t easy.
I need to concentrate- Concentration is required to learn new techniques and to protect my limbs from being pulled apart.
Goals- All training sessions on the mat are designed with a purpose. My goal at the moment is to achieve my blue belt within the next year.
Immediate feedback- occasionally this comes in the form of a snapped tendon in the arm/leg or waking up after being put to sleep via a choke. Usually it comes from the Sensei correcting poor technique or teaching new drills.
On the mat you need 100% concentration or you run the risk of being injured or put to sleep. For those 90 minutes, the outside world does not exist.
Control comes in the form of self-defense.
The session lasts 90 minutes. 90 minutes feels like 5 minutes and without the sweat, aches and pain, one might assume someone is tampering with the clock.
Without knowing it, every morning I’m achieving flow and growing as a person. I’m expanding my skills by challenging myself. When I leave the gym for work, I feel energized and cannot wait for the next session.
Is it the Jiu Jitsu or the state of flow that I’m addicted to?
Now that you’re aware of it, could the state of flow benefit you and your child?
Something to think about
Have you achieved the state of flow today?
Does your child experience flow at training?
Have you read a soccer book that discusses the importance of flow?
Flow addict and future BJJ Black Belt.
“May the winds of destiny blow you to the stars”