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Further Examining the Relationship between Mental Toughness and Dispositional Flow in Sport: A Mediation Analysis

By Patricia C. Jackman, Lee Crust, & Christian Swann

We can probably all agree at this point that mental toughness is a key factor in peak performance. You may also have heard of flow: those moments where everything seems to be going your way and your performance is effortless. Most assume that the two concepts go hand-in-hand, but Jackman, Crust and Swann (2017) sought to prove it with their study.

Before I discuss what they found, let’s quickly touch on what mental toughness and flow are. In their definition, the authors focused on four Cs: confidence, challenge, commitment, and control. Not to be confused with my 7 Cs, which are basically the same concept- I just take it a step or two further 🙂

Flow is defined by nine dimensions:

  • Challenge-skills balance- balance between the high perceived demands and skills in the situation
  • Clear goals- clear understanding of goals
  • Unambiguous feedback- receiving instantaneous feedback concerning performance progression
  • Concentration on the task at hand- complete focus on the task
  • Action-awareness merging- task absorption or feeling at one with the activity
  • The sense of control- feeling of control over the performance
  • Loss of self-consciousness- concern for the opinion of others disappears
  • Transformation of time- a perceptual alteration in the speed at which time passes
  • Autotelic experience- enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding state

(Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002)

To confirm and then examine the relationship between the two concepts, the authors had 256 athletes from international, national and university levels complete questionnaires about mental toughness and flow. The results showed that mental toughness had a significant effect (both directly and indirectly) on multiple flow dimensions. The two dimensions that were most strongly related to mental toughness were: (a) a sense of control and (b) concentration on the task at hand.

So what does this mean for softballers? It means if you want to experience that amazing feeling of flow and have more performances that are effortless, you have to

focus on what’s within your control.

There are many tactics for this, and you’ll find what works best for you. To begin, you have to figure out what is distracting you and what you should actually be focusing on. To do this, I’ve created a bonus worksheet for you!

If I may make a suggestion, I would recommend printing the sheet, filling it out, and hanging it somewhere you will see it right before you compete. Maybe put in your locker or in your bat bag (you may want to put it inside a protective sheet so it doesn’t get covered in dirt!) If you prefer digital, take a picture of the sheet on your phone and make it your home screen. 🙂

Coaches, this exercise is for you, too! If we truly want to help our girls become mentally stronger, we have to model mental strength. So get started by unlocking the free PDF below! Then head to Facebook to learn more and leave a comment as I dive deeper in Extra Innings 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this post and got mentally stronger today!


If you want to take action right now and learn how to Control the Controllables, get your free worksheet!


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Jackman, P. C., Crust, L. & Swann, C. (2017) Further examining the relationship between mental toughness and dispositional flow in sport: a mediation analysis. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 48 (3), 356-374. 

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