5 Ways to Help Your Athlete Find Their Flow State

March 28, 2023

“How can I make myself better? This is the question I constantly asked myself as a collegiate softball player. 

Back then, I was the epitome of an unconfident athlete.  You’d think I would’ve figured it out by college, right? Nope! That’s when the pressure felt even worse, and I let every little hiccup define me. 

In my mind, the highs and lows determined my worth. When I did well, I felt great, accomplished, and like I was doing “enough” (whatever that means). 

But when I did poorly, I wasn’t enough in anything I did in life–much less on the field. 

The performance anxiety was real, and I questioned my abilities. I felt the need to do so much more. I rode the wave of my emotions–constantly stewing over past failures and forecasting all the what-ifs. 

Back then, I didn’t understand how to find my neutral–my flow state–where the mind is focused on the present moment and the outside noise of the past is barely audible–if there at all. 

In a flow state, there’s no performance anxiety–just the mind and body working together to do what it’s trained to do. 

Professional athletes work hard every day to find their neutral, because finding flow–the optimal state of mind–is where optimal success lives. 

And I want to help your athlete achieve that as well. Keep reading to learn how. 

What is Sports Performance Anxiety?

Have you ever had an athlete focus too much on past failures, or worry too much about future misses? Sports performance anxiety is a fear of failure, and it can affect any athlete at any time. 

Signs of sports performance anxiety include: 

  • Low self-confidence
  • Tension, stress, and frustration 
  • Choking during a game
  • Negative self-talk
  • Anger and agitation
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety, including increased heart rate, “butterflies,”  cold sweats, etc. 

But how can you help your athlete overcome sports performance anxiety? 

Find Your Flow State to Achieve Optimal Success

In order to help your athlete beat performance anxiety and succeed more frequently, she has to find her flow state–or her “neutral position.” 

Because when your athlete comes out of neutral, she’ll begin to ride the wave of emotions. She might let her mind wander to her last failure or forecast doubt about her upcoming performances, and this puts her in a vulnerable place. 

So, here are 5 tips that will help your athlete access her flow–her neutral state of no thought–immediately. Familiarize yourself with each of these strategies–especially the last one!

Tip #1: Get Positive

The doorway to success is through positivity. If your athlete doesn’t have a positive reflection or outlook on her future performance, remind her that whether or not she failed or succeeded in her last effort, there are always positives to focus on. When we project thoughts of future failure, be assured: we’ve already lost the battle. 

Find Your Flow Action Steps:

1. Pull lessons learned from past performances to boost confidence.

2. Help your athlete visualize positive things happening in the upcoming performance. She can even visualize negative things happening, but be sure she also visualizes how she will respond to that failure in a positive way. 

Remember: thoughts become things, so be careful with your thoughts! 

Related Blog Post: Learn How to Recognize the Power of Your Mindset 

Tip #2: Focus on Facts, Not Feelings

An athlete is not defined by one performance. 

Instead, their overall performance is judged by the average of their experiences. 

So, help your athlete learn from their mistakes and move on to prepare for their next attempt. 

Find Your Flow Action Step:

Your athlete is kicking herself about an error she made in her last game and starts telling herself that she isn’t good enough in Coach’s eyes; that she’ll never get another opportunity to play there again; and that she let her entire team down. “Does the team think I suck?” she wonders. 

Help your athlete level the facts by asking her this specific question: “Are you focused on the facts or your feelings about this situation?”

Encourage your athlete to choose to focus on the facts of the error so she can understand the solution faster and eliminate the thoughts from spiraling out of control. 

For example, maybe she didn’t get her glove down in time to block the ball, therefore it went behind her, so now she’ll practice blocking/glove quickness.

When you encourage your athlete to quiet the annoying emotions that consume them in times of defeat and help them focus on the facts–not the feelings, they will solve the problem much faster. 

Tip #3: Breathe it Out

Yes, I know it seems simple, but it is a game-changer. 

In order to find neutral, a brain has to be clear. And in order for a brain to be clear it NEEDS OXYGEN! 

During times of stress, breathing gets shallow and blood oxygen levels can decrease immensely. So encourage your athlete to take slow deep breaths, which can increase the oxygen levels needed to help clear her mind.

Find Your Flow Action Step:

Have your athlete write “breathe it out” somewhere on her equipment–like a glove or visor. This can be a gentle reminder to replenish her supply of oxygen, gain clarity, and find the present moment. 

Tip #4: Do a Concentration Grid

Want to get your athlete closer to understanding what it feels like to find their flow? Integrate a concentration grid into their pre-game routine! 

We know this works because it’s what the pros do before their games! But there is science backing it too! You see when your athlete is concentrated on finding the next number she is not focused on the past or future. To optimize her effort in this exercise, she will need to stay locked in, tuning out all external noise that may be surrounding her. 

Find Your Flow Action step:

1. Print out concentration grids linked here.

2. Tell your athlete she has 30 seconds to find a specific number and count down from it, crossing off each number that she finds. Her goal is to cross off as many numbers as possible. Every time she does this, her goal should be to beat her last amount. 

Bonus tip: At 15 seconds, start adding noise to your athlete’s surroundings, disrupt her flow and challenge her to stay focus on the goal of the exercise. This will be a direct parallel to what she needs to do in her performance when the noise disrupts her game.

Tip #5: Interact With the Senses

Did you know your mind can only have one thought at a time? 

Commonly, athletes get caught in past or futuristic thoughts during performances; they are out of their flow state.

In order to get neutral, you have to be in the present moment. So here is the last game-changing tip: Encourage your athlete to interact with her senses in the present moment to disrupt the previous wavelength her brain was on. 

For example, as a college pitching coach, I asked my pitchers to interact with their senses after a bad at-bat. 

I asked them to untie and retie their shoes, pick up dirt and rub it around in their hands, or use their cleats to dig a hole deeper into the ground as they feel the earth below them.

This allowed them to feel their body in the present moment, meanwhile releasing that negative, nonproductive thought they were holding onto from the last batter. 

From there, my pitcher could get back on the mound and feel reset, refocused, and neutral rather than angry, tense, and emotional.

Find Your Flow Action Step:

Create a sensory routine with your athlete that allows her to interact with one of her 5 senses in various positions throughout her game. 

For example: when is she going to bring her awareness to that present moment? After a defensive mistake? Between games? On the bench?

You could ask her to:

  • Look at the words written on her visor
  • Cinch her batting gloves a little tighter 
  • Knock her cleats
  • Snap a rubber band on her wrist 
  • Drink water 
  • Take a deep breath
  • Have a “flush it” routine with a teammate. 

Performance Anxiety and Flow: Summing it Up

Performance anxiety can make or break your athlete’s ability to succeed. But when she finds her flow–her neutral–she can overcome it with ease. 

Here are 5 ways to help your athlete find her neutral:

1. Encourage her to find the positive. 

2. Ask her to focus on the facts, not her feelings.

3. Remind her to breathe. 

4. Integrate a concentration grid into her pre-game routine. 

5. Create a sensory routine to help her interact with her 5 senses. 

The pros find their flow every day to beat performance anxiety and meet their goals. Are you ready to perform like a pro? Get your FREE performance log here. 

Your Mindset Softball Coach,
Coach D

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