Focus, Flow and Fun


I have been pondering the significance of last week’s soccer scrimmage. I found myself on the field in default mode: going full tilt, fast, shoulder to the wheel, focused effort for results, more effort and more focus for even better results, put in the time and the effort and what I want to come to pass usually does.

But there was a voice over my shoulder, my coach Michael, who could see something I couldn’t see about how to play the game better.Behind me, his words to me were: “slow it down”.On another occasion: “just take the ball, hang on to it for a few seconds, then decide what to do with it.”I couldn’t believe the results.

Now I must note that I need to get feedback from Michael about what he saw – I am relying on what my subjective self sees and feels.I don’t know if he saw anything different, but I felt very different: my body was just doing what it needed to do, without really focusing on it.Putting things together that I hadn’t put together before.It was like those times when I look straight at something and I can’t quite see it no matter how hard I look, but when I look just to the side, I can see it better.My body was doing the things we have been learning all winter – ball control, passing, position, shooting – but without me actually focusing on these.From time to time, I felt a sense of flow.Things unfolded as they needed to in response to the circumstances of the moment.

I fell out of this feel of flow frequently, and then I could still hear Michael’s voice, though it was now me reminding myself. Other times, it was Michael pointing out technical things to do, like: “let the ball hit you straight on.If you turn to the side you have no idea where it will go.”Michael suggested I focus on something specific, but of course that is not the only thing I was expected to focus on.I had to file this information, these things to focus on, into the mix.In the end, I found myself falling in and out of precision, and in and out of intuition.A friendly and usefull tug-of-war between focus and flow.

The game, and life, is about the tug-of-war.It isn’t all or nothing, but rather noticing that both are in play and welcoming them.I notice that in my head and my body, I have a strong tendancy to work hard to get the job done, but not necessarily skillfully.The effort and focus I put into things often makes it look like I am better at something than I truly am.My skills improve when I take the risk of a split second to pause (or take Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) and check out what the circumstances really require of me.This is not logical – but I can trust that I will know the right thing thing to do, and do it skillfully if I let myself.And if I try to do both – ie focus on flow – I won’t get either.Pulling both ends of the same rope gets you tight rope.

My coach has lessons for me on and off the field and I appreciate the time he has voluntarily spent with us, every week, over the last two years.We are learning technical skills – how to handle a ball, the rules of the game.We are learning about how we do not have the same skills or abilities or aptitudes.This is not only welcomed, but we are learning how to use this diversity to build an effective team.We are supported in our individual learning as well as our collective learning as a team.When we are ready, he shows us something new, always making sure the stretch is one that challenges without overwhelming us.
We are recognizing how we are doing something well and how we are not doing something well so we can see and feel how to improve.Most importantly we are having fun.

I see now that this week’s scrimmage, for me, was about focus and flow – and that welcoming both comes with fun, lightly holding the conundrum.

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