Guest Post: Flow State: The Importance of a Quiet, Confident Mind During Competition

October 19, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Pat Vellner | @pvellner
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Every athlete puts in an immense amount of physical training; tackling weaknesses and honing strengths. 

It is not possible to be at the elite level without this hard work. But when it comes time to compete, the individuals that really shine have something unique that sets them apart. They are able to get in a zone that allows them to rise above the rest. 

This is often referred to as a flow state.

The big picture: To reach a flow state, one must quiet their mind and eliminate distractions. It is a difficult task if they are stuck in a negative past, or worrying about a hypothetical future, or what others might be thinking of them. 

  • Only when an athlete is fully immersed in the present can they reach a level of calmness while a flurry of activity happening around them. Their confidence grows and negativity disappears. 

The opposite seems to be true as well. When an athlete makes mistakes or digs themselves a hole early in a workout, the extra stress and strain to catch up can be extremely costly. Their confidence vanishes and distractions take over. 

Remind me: Pat Vellner looked calm and collected waiting for the second and final interval to begin during “Test 8: Intervals” at the 2023 CrossFit Games in Madison. He summoned the crowd to a roar by waving his arms in the air, the stoic look on his face unchanged. Pure confidence. 

When the second interval started, Vellner picked up where he left off from the first, showing the smooth technique on the burpee box jump-overs that helped extend his lead heading to the rower. Barely breathing through his mouth, he completed the calories required to move to the next segment. 

The camera panned to other athletes who had clearly entered a pain cave, from which there was likely no escape until minutes after the work was finished. In a test that wrecked most of the field, Vellner cruised to victory like he was on a Sunday stroll through the park. 

On a recent episode of Talking Elite Fitness, he described his experience.

  • “That was the easiest workout I’ve ever done at the Games. And I won it standing up,” recalled Vellner.
  • “That level of flow state is sometimes rare and what you always chase,” He continued. “You get a few of those in a career, and they’re cool.”

Why this matters: It is well known how much mindset affects results during competition. There has been discussion of this amongst elite coaches, sports psychologists, and tenured athletes for years. From the book The Confident Mind by Nate Zinnser: 

  • “When the fear of making a mistake is in your mind, you become cautious instead of assertive, reserved instead of intense, overly analytic instead of natural and flowing.”

Vellner acknowledged that the work was put in ahead of time, and gave credit to coach Michele Letendre. 

  • “She was right about the burpees. That was where the separation got made, and being smooth and fast.” said Vellner.

The bottom line: How was Vellner able to attain his 7th career test win, calmly walking to the finish while the majority of competitors collapsed at the line in a heap? 

He appeared to have kept his mind calm and confident and reached a flow state. With the Rogue Invitational just around the corner, which athletes will we see use this superpower to their advantage?

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