Positive Performance States of Athletes: Toward a Conceptual Understanding of Peak Performance

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Susan A. Jackson UNC, Greensboro

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Glyn C. Roberts U. of Illinois, Urbana

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This study investigated relationships among peak performance, flow, goal orientation, and perceived ability in an attempt to ascertain possible conceptual bases to peak performance. Collegiate athletes (N=200) answered a questionnaire that assessed mastery and competitive goal orientations, perceived ability, flow, and experience in best and worst competitive performances. It was hypothesized that the psychological process of flow underlies peak performance and is associated with a mastery oriented focus and high perceived ability. These predicted relationships were supported by both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Analysis of athletes’ best performances indicated a total focus on performance, and other characteristics of flow were key to the perception of a superior state of functioning. In contrast, overconcern with the outcome, reflecting a competitive orientation, was often associated with athletes’ worst performances. These associations suggest that investigating positive performance states from a motivational standpoint may lead to greater understanding of the underlying conceptual bases of peak athletic performance.

Susan A. Jackson is with the Dept. of Exercise & Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27412-5001. Glyn C. Roberts is with the Dept. of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801.

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