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The key to progression in sport, as well as getting in the zone, is mastering the challenge-skills balance. Here we look at chapter three of Flow In Sports.

There’s a reason some of our most epic days in the mountains often happen when we’ve pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone. Taking on terrain at the very edge of our ability requires us to totally engage, concentrate and pay close attention to our surroundings.

Utilising all of our skills to the best of our ability, in an environment that’s highly demanding creates the perfect conditions to experience flow. However, there are a few things to bear in mind when searching for opportunities in this field.

Challenge Too Easy?

Just as if we were playing a weaker opponent, with no real challenge to focus on, it becomes all too easy to let our mind wander. We no longer need to engage our best efforts, which although might sound relaxing, over time can leave us feeling apathetic or bored.

Challenge Too Great?

If we take on a challenge that’s too difficult and beyond the reach of our ability, we run the risk of feeling anxious in our activity. When we begin to worry about consequences, or looking clumsy, it’s pretty difficult to get in the zone and be carefree. Although perceived skills and confidence can help in this environment, you can't force your way through in a ‘fake it to make it’ scenario as flow is an introverted psychological mind set, not something that can be observed by others.

The Sweet Spot

We need to set challenges that are above our average ability and effort. They need to be just about achievable, but will require serious concentration and for us to push ourselves to the edge of our abilities. It’s within this zone that we are able to lose ourselves and devote our entire mental capacity to the task at hand.

Pushing Boundaries

Most of us naturally want to progress in our sports, whether that’s in our endurance or technical ability. The best way for us to keep our development on track is by consistently pushing ourselves.

This is why we often thrive when playing against a stronger opponent, or when faced with terrain a little out of our comfort zone. However, pushing yourself too far can sometimes feel inferior and your efforts can seem futile.

When facing bigger challenges, it can help to break them down into smaller, more achievable goals. For instance, instead of taking on a steep spine on an open face, you could draw a safer line on the same face.

Similarly, instead of performing graceful turns through a powder field, you could set yourself the goal of just getting to the bottom, and work on your technique later.

Confidence & Self Belief

Perceived skills and feeling confident have a huge role to play in the challenge-skill balance. A base skillset is required to start getting into the zone, but upon this we need to build some serious self-confidence.

The skier or snowboarder who is worried about catching an edge will undoubtedly spend all his time thinking about not falling, instead of making spontaneous moves and enjoying the ride.

Believing you can do something has been shown to have an incredibly positive effect on performance and although naysayers may be quick to point out the pitfalls of false confidence, it’s actually far more common for us to worry that we don't have what it takes, despite having previously demonstrated our expertise.

The Value of Preparation

Mental and physical preparation are two of the most valuable attributes to performance. This is why many athletes train under the same conditions as major events so that when race day comes, they can just work through the motions like they have a thousand times before.

They know they can do the task at hand, and have bags of confidence while doing so. Flow In Sports quotes former University of Texas coach Daryll Royal who famously said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”