Beyond individual flow: distributed flow in ice hockey, its antecedents and consequences to performance

Reidelberger, Melissa (2023) Beyond individual flow: distributed flow in ice hockey, its antecedents and consequences to performance. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


One of the most popular psychological factors underlying sport performance has been mental toughness. However, recently, flow and metacognition are starting to receive more attention as the understanding of their potential impact is ever increasing. Flow is considered the intersection of task absorption and intrinsic enjoyment, resulting in optimal performance. Metacognition is the consciousness and understanding of one’s thoughts and thought processes. Mental toughness is a wide-ranging construct generally regarded as the ability to cope through the demands and pressure while maintaining a sense of focus, confidence, and control. This PhD research aimed to extend flow theory and bring metacognition research to ice hockey as this sport has not been studied specifically with either of these nor have these elements been studied in a similar environment with such a fast-paced nature heavily dependent on team mates and requiring constant interaction. It was postulated that a new type of flow was necessary for success in this type of an environment, called distributed flow. This dissertation presents three studies that were conducted to identify distributed flow and develop and validate a self-report questionnaire to measure it validly and reliably as well as further exploratory findings of three distributed flow antecedents and two types of metacognitions.

Semi-structured interviews with 16 ice hockey players were conducted about their experiences and thoughts while playing ice hockey (Study 1, Chapter 2). The sample included six amateurs and 10 former National Hockey League (NHL) players. After the coding and analysis of these results, 15 factors were identified in three themes: distributed flow, composed of four factors, distributed flow antecedents, composed of seven factors, and metacognition, made up of four factors. A 125-item pilot Ice Hockey Questionnaire (IHQ) was developed and tested on a sample of 147 ice hockey players. Exploratory factor analysis yielded an eight-factor solution with item reduction processes resulting in a 36-item scale. Distributed flow remained, now composed of three factors instead of four but only two originals. Distributed attention split into distributed attention and external focus. These scales had the most movement with four items moving factors. The distributed flow antecedents were reduced to three, all original themes, with only one new item being added. Metacognition was reduced to just one type but further refined to consider team and individual aspects. All items were original with the addition of one. The remaining factors included metacognition of resilience: individual, metacognition of resilience: team, strategic timing, coaching impact, adaptiveness, distributed attention, external focus, and routine. The subscales explained a total of 58 per cent of the variance. Confirmatory factor analysis was performed on a sample of 342 ice hockey players. Analysis resulted in the elimination of three items but confirmed all eight factors. The final result was a 33-item IHQ.

Participants in both studies also completed the Short Dispositional Flow Scale (SDFS2) (Jackson, Martin, & Eklund, 2008), Short Flow in Work Scale (SFWS) (Moneta, 2017), Flow Metacognition Questionnaire (FMQ) (Wilson & Moneta, 2016), and Mental Toughness Scale (MTS) (Madrigal, Hamill, & Gill, 2013). The correlations between each factor and the psychometric measures were calculated and analysed for each study as a whole as well as taking the demographic categories into consideration. The results across both studies were compared. Furthermore, participants had the option to consent to their playing statistics to be obtained and used the further the analysis. The previous process was completed for this aspect as well. After confirming the validity of the IHQ, mediation modelling was performed to test the relationships with mental toughness and performance. Mental toughness had both a direct and indirect effect on flow, which increased performance. This finding was in line with previous research, confirming the integrity of the data and allowing for the new individual subscales to be analysed in the same fashion. The standout result from this analysis came from strategic timing. When mental toughness, strategic timing, and flow were regressed together on performance, mental toughness was not significant. This is the first time research has shown mental toughness not to have a direct impact on flow and performance. This result far exceeded expectations initially laid out for this research and has confirmed the need for further investigation into this factor specifically as well as the overall concept of distributed flow.

Overall, the findings from the three studies conducted in this dissertation confirm the existence of distributed flow and its positive relationship with performance. Five additional factors have also been identified, which can be considered distributed flow antecedents and types of metacognitions. The dissertation concludes with a summary of its limitations as well as a projection for possible future research, specifically with other sports, such as NASCAR, combat and emergency environments, and multiplayer videogames. It is believed this PhD dissertation has met its aims by having identified a new type of flow and opening the door for future research into individual elements that can eliminate mental toughness when it comes to performance prediction.

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