Do You Play Like a Girl?

mia hammGrowing up with three older brothers, I had to figure out how to hold my own be it on the family basketball court or at the dinner table.  Boys can make a game out of just about anything…like flicking Planters cheeseballs down the dinner table into my open mouth waiting at the end of the table.  I heard things like, “Open wider, Kim,” and “Move to the left!” It’s all fun and games until your younger sister vomits cheeseballs…when the parish priest is over.  So, forgive me that I relish in quotes like this one from Mia Hamm.   As I got older, I ditched the cheeseballs and found my own trash-talking voice.

This week was a great one for women in sports.  The US Women’s National Team won the World Cup, led by Carli Lloyd with an impressive hat trick in their win over Japan.  And then Serena Williams won her 6th Wimbledon and 4th consecutive major title making her the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam tournament in professional tennis.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” 

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 As a former athlete with a Masters degree in Sport Psychology, I’ve studied  the concept of Flow. Athletes talk about being “on a roll” or “in the zone.”  Sports Psychologists refer to Flow as a state of optimal experience in which athletes are completely absorbed in an activity with intense focus and creative engagement where they feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.  It’s not about thinking, “How can I execute this pass?”  It’s not really about thinking at all.
I experienced this state of Flow a handful of times and studied it in collegiate athletes.  I found the work of psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, to be fascinating – how to experience peak performance and optimal experience, not only in sports but in life.  Fast forward 12 years beyond that M.S. in Sport Psychology and I find myself in the throes of quite another experience… juggling a newborn baby, a toddler-age business, and two school-age children.  It can only be described as a state of being in which I feel…tired, dazed, putting forth complete effort, and feeling out of control – basically the opposite of Flow.  I am in the Un-Flow.

But as Csikszentmihalyi promises, the best moments occur when we’re stretched to our limits. We see images of victory in our newsfeed and forget about the countless failures that occurred along the way.   We watch 90 minutes of one soccer game and don’t consider the numerous hours of training that preceded it.  We see trophies and medals and ignore the bruises and scars. If you’re anything like me, you may be waiting for your day to “arrive” – when you get that promotion, lose that baby weight and get in shape, find your perfect mate – and then, it’ll all be perfect, right?  It’s not by mistake that Csikszentmihalyi talks about the best moments NOT as you cashing your big paycheck, showing off a skinny waistline, or standing at the altar.  It’s the moments.  Getting there.

You. Have. Arrived.  Now, put down the cheeseballs and order some world-class dinners.

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