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The Thrill of Motorcycling: Quest for Flow

By Helen Owton

As the British Superbike season comes to an end this month, it’s an opportunity to understand why individuals engage in such ‘risky’ activities. Traditionally, extreme sports are associated with thrill seekers with a ‘death wish’ or adrenaline junkies searching for their next thrill (Brymer and Schweitzer, 2013). Brymer and Schweitzer (2013), however, argue that these individuals can be highly trained individuals with a deep knowledge of themselves, the activity, and the environment, who seek an experience that is life-enhancing and life-changing.  Extreme sport participants face intense fears, accept that control of the future is not always possible and move through these fears to participate fully in the action and make choices to reduce risk and enhance personal control (Brymer and Schweitzer, 2013; Crust et al., 2019). Csikzentmihalyi (1997) noted that “People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind… The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some housefly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: 78. Boanerges[1] is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop, flying across the dip, and up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus (Laurence of Arabia, The Mint, Part III, Chpt 16, 1955).

Lawrence of Arabia wrote stories about the thrill of riding motorcycles which captures the sense of freedom, excitement and adventure that many experience. There may be risks attached to pursue those experiences, but new adventures and unique experiences can cultivate joy, fulfilment, enhance confidence and resilience, and provide an opportunity to grow and expand one’s sense of self. Indeed, motorcyclists are often “driven to conquer new challenges and soak up every experience life has to offer” (Carter, 2019; Psychology Today, 2021, para 2). Pirsig (1991) articulates this in the following paragraph:

In a car, you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realise that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

The thrill, ‘adrenaline rush’ and intense sensory experience motorcyclists may experience from riding (Sato, 1988) can be understood through the concept of ‘flow’. Csíkszentmihályi (1997) has studied the phenomenon of flow extensively and describes it as an optimal psychological state, which enables athletes to optimise their potential and to perform at their personal best. “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Jackson and Csíkszentmihályi (1999) designated nine antecedents of flow, which are termed: challenge-skills balance, action-awareness merging, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation and autotelic experience. An ‘autotelic’ person is described as doing things for their own sake, low sense of self-centredness, strong sense of persistence, low need for power, and needing few material possessions.  Such a person tends to experience flow more frequently and there is a positive association between flow and conscientiousness (Ullén et al., 2012). These experiences can be derived in the course of participating in an activity, such as high-risk sports, like motorcycling.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that for someone to fully enjoy high-risk pursuits, the level of danger must be proportionate to the participants’ level of ability. In order to induce flow, it is about balancing the level of skill with the challenge we are faced with (Nakamura et al., 2009). The capacity to experience flow, however, can differ from person to person and some argue there is a difference between flow state and ‘clutch’ state. Clutch state is similar to being “in the zone” but described as being able to make it happen when you need to switch on during important moments in a performance. Clutch performances occur under particular pressure conditions and where there’s an important outcome. Clutch performances are comprised of focus, heightened awareness, and intense effort whereas flow states are viewed as effortless attention and automatic experiences (Swann and Goddard, 2020). Flow states are more aligned with “letting it happen” whereby confidence develops naturally whereas clutch states are associated with “making it happen” where there is a sudden increase in concentration and effort (Swann et al., 2015). In order to activate flow states or clutch states, there has been an association with certain goal types. For example, open goals such as “do your best” goals are more associated with inducing flow states, whereas specific goals with a fixed outcome such as “winning a race” and setting a task specific goal to “ride at 100mph round the next corner to overtake the next rider” in order to achieve that outcome is associated with ‘clutch’ performances. It is likely that, in reality, there is a shifting or slippage in and out of the states and a blurring between and within the states.

Nonetheless, there are similarities within the two states and Cole (2017) suggests an 80% rule of attention and engagement and cautions against 100% capacity which could result in disaster. As demonstrated on a track day in Owton (in press), attentional shifts when riding a motorcycle means that working at 100% can make one feel overwhelmed, whereas once distractions are reduced, skills improve, and enjoyment is enhanced from moments of being ‘in the zone’. In this way, flow isn’t just an enjoyable state of being, it is about learning to direct your attention, gain independence from exterior rewards, and ultimately, living a happy and fulfilled life. Notably, however, a mistake in motorcycling at speed and pushing one’s abilities too far has fatal consequences (Murphy, 2016). Motorcycling, like other high-risk sports, requires a sharpening of senses, meticulous preparation, high work rates, swift recovery following setbacks and thriving in challenging situations (Crust et al., 2019).  As Cole (2017) notes, therefore, it is important to set ourselves appropriate challenges and be attuned to one’s senses by anticipating, listening to engine sounds, being cool under pressure, being attuned to a constantly moving environment at speed, and positioning the body-motorcycle effectively round the corner such as riding a ‘racing line’ (Owton, in press).

As I feel myself flow through the air, my hand on the throttle squeezing it towards me, picking up speed, feeling the air press against me harder as I gain speed. My lid protects me from the air pressing too hard on my face and the wind making eyes water. I listen to the sound of the engine growling, working hard, getting louder as the right time comes to change gear, then I quickly close the throttle swiftly enough not to feel the motorcycle slow down as I flick my toe up and click into the next gear. Listening acutely to the sound and feel indicates I can squeeze the throttle and gain speed again. This is known as quick shifting manually (not using the clutch). The connection between my hands, my feet, and the motorcycle, works best when I’m not thinking, when I’m just feeling the way and am at one with my motorcycle. Once I’ve reached top gear, there’s a smoothness with the ride; I feel like I’m flying. I’m completely alert but I’m in a trance of speed with endorphins raging through my body (Owton, 2021).

While there can be high risks involved in motorcycling, participation in such activities can facilitate more positive psychological experiences and allow people to experience freedom and re-connect with nature (Brymer and Schweitzer, 2013).

References

Carter, K. (2019). Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies. Cambridge University Press.

Crust, L. Swann, C. & Allen-Collinson, J. (2019) Mentally tough behaviour in extreme environments: perceptions of elite high-altitude mountaineers, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 11(3), 334-347.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: HarperCollins.

Jackson, S. & Csíkszentmihályi M. (1999). Flow in sports. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. Handbook of positive psychology, 195-206.

Owton, H. (2021). Quest for Freedom: Intense Embodied Experiences of Motorcycling. Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies, Vol 22, No. 2, p.154-162. Available here.

Pirsig, R. M. (1999). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: An inquiry into values. Random House.

Sato, I. (1988). Bosozoku: Flow in Japanese motorcycle gangs. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness (pp. 92-117). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ullén, F., de Manzano, Ö., Almeida, R., Magnusson, P. K., Pedersen, N. L., Nakamura, J., … & Madison, G. (2012). Proneness for psychological flow in everyday life: Associations with personality and intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences52(2), 167-172.

[1] Lawrence nicknamed his motorcycle a Brough Superior SS100 Boanerges (Boa) meaning “son of thunder” in Aramaic.

Meet another of our Student Voice Champions

As our last article explained Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. You previously met Chris and Yasmin and this article introduces our third champion, Will.

My name is Will, I am a Level 2 Sport and Fitness student and I will be starting my final year this coming October. When I’m not studying, I currently work as a garden landscaper        and I am a coach at my local running club taking different ability groups. Another one of my passions is Triathlon, after starting a few years ago it has become a big part of my life, it helps me keep fit and I enjoy completing new challenges. My biggest achievement to date was completing a half-ironman in 5 hours 10 minutes. I am also a keen golfer and recently I achieved my first hole in one.

I decided that I wanted to be a student voice rep to promote mental health. Due to the current situation we find ourselves in, I think many OU students could benefit from more support whether this is just someone to talk to or more support from OU staff. I will do my very best to ensure that this support is in place for you. Please feel free to get in contact with me if there is anything you need.

Twitter: @GoreWill

Email: zx674027@ou.ac.uk

Meet two of our Student Voice Champions

Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. These new and exciting roles are designed for students to have a voice and share opinions and ideas  that represent those on the qualification which have the potential to inform the student experience. Your Student Voice Champions have been selected as they are passionate about having a voice as students and wellbeing as well as wider influences such as curriculum design and content, equality and diversity, promoting good mental health and other topics which are important for student success.

Meet two of your Student Voice Reps below:

My name is Chris Nash and I am a Level 1 student. Outside of my OU study I work as a data manager looking after timetabling, academic data and exam results analysis for a secondary school and sixth form in Dorset. I’m also a permanent wheelchair user and profoundly deaf, and until recently was a wheelchair racer participating in elite road races up to marathon distance (and had fun doing so!).

My experiences with my disabilities have also contributed to mental health struggles and alongside tirelessly fighting for a level playing field for those with disabilities I am also a passionate advocate for providing support for those struggling with their mental health. I love interacting with others both face to face and online and hope you will find me very approachable. I’m always ready to listen if there is something you would like to share, or indeed if you just need someone to talk to – and I love hearing and sharing success stories too!

Feel free to get in touch via Twitter @blackberrychris

My name is Yasmin, I’m one of the very lucky students who is a part of the Student voice team. Some facts about me are that I’m 25, mad about disability sport and love learning new things, when we aren’t in lockdown I’m often found hiding at the gym. I am very keen to represent students and make sure our voices are heard, if we all work together then big changes can happen. I’m coming back to studying after finishing my GCSE’s I went straight into working in design. My life got flipped over and I now live life with multiple disabilities and as much as I love design, I love sport and fitness more. I have my qualification in coaching wheelchair basketball and have been involved in wheelchair sport for the past 7 years. I like to think I’m approachable and anyone is welcome to reach out about absolutely anything using my email Yr474@ou.ac.uk.

For more information on Student Voice please visit the Student Voice page of the Sport and Fitness Website.

Student Voice and Wellbeing: Making the connection

** This post was originally published on the Ed Studies (Primary) webpage on Friday 4th December**

As a Sport Studies student you are familiar with being asked your opinion, possibly connected to module experience or maybe responding to a survey about a new initiative. This culminates in the final year of under-graduate study when in the Spring the National Student Survey (NSS) consultation is conducted. The NSS collates students view with an aim to improve the overall student experience and its powerful results are openly published.

On a different subject – or is it? – levels of poor mental health and low wellbeing amongst Higher Education students are disproportionately high compared to the remainder of the UK adult population, and are increasing (Thorley, 2017). It is no surprise that higher education attainment can be affected by stress, anxiety, depression, grief, sleeping difficulties and relationship problems. Students experiencing these issues report a lower sense of belonging and engagement with their university which can affect retention and progression. In 2017, the #stepchange agenda was launched by Universities UK to improve mental health and wellbeing in universities. The #stepchange framework comprises eight strands which identify the necessary focus for change:

 

The #stepchange agenda works to increase students sense of belonging and enable students to develop their social identity. This has the potential to improve retention and academic success and ultimately to enhance student experience (Thomas, 2012). In 2020 the #stepchange agenda was developed into a University Mental Health Charter where universities are required to develop a wellbeing strategy (link to OU mental health and wellbeing strategy) and can be nationally recognised for this work.

 

The connectivity between student voice and wellbeing is evident in the way #stepchange is delivered; through co-creation between students and their university. Co-creation is the new buzzword in higher education and requires high levels of student participation, where student voice has the potential to make the most positive impact on student experience. Let’s contextualise our perspective of participation. You might be familiar with Arnstein’s model of participation, where power and control are represented in a hierarchical ladder and students (or citizens in the model) progress to achieve high levels of participation. The highest levels of participation are the hardest to achieve but bear the most fruit in respect of student experience and student success. They cultivate ‘buy in’ from students through authentic collaboration which lower levels of participation such as surveys struggle to achieve.

Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969).

Research with children and young people informs us that a participatory approach to educational relationships produces the best outcomes (Lyndon in Williams-Brown and Mander, 2020). It is the same for higher education students and might be considered more meaningful because study at university is voluntary rather than statutory like school, and we engage in adult: adult relationships where power should be more evenly distributed. In respect of wellbeing, the Universities UK strategy is clear that co-creation opportunities should be available through a whole university approach if student wellbeing is to improve. However, the relinquishing of power can be uncomfortable and impractical. It is best managed as a conscious uncoupling (to use celebrity speak) of the old to introduce the new. It challenges existing, ingrained ways of working within universities, and reshapes the cultural climate which informs our identity as individuals and an institution.

One of the ways in which ECYS are improving student voice and wellbeing is to incorporate a student panel within staff recruitment processes. This happened for the first time in November 2020, with aims for it to be an integral activity in the future. Students who participated said it was a privilege and an honour, planning of activities including a scenario were enjoyable, working as a team was effective, and they felt very well supported and informed about the process. Their wellbeing was enhanced; they reported that being involved was fun and satisfying, it helped to build confidence and they felt valued because their opinion and input mattered. This leaves us wanting more student co-creation opportunities. Can you think of any you would like to be involved in? Let us know, we love to hear about them and promise to respond.

Sarah Mander is a Staff Tutor (line managing Associate Lecturers) and Tutor for E102 module. She is also a serial student, studying for a Doctorate in Education. Sarah leads the ECYS Student Voice and Wellbeing Champions group.

Sarah has researched and written about wellbeing, mental health and the student population for the publication Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes (Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds., 2020).

References

 Lyndon, H. (2020) ‘Listening to children the rights of the child’ In, Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds. ‘Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes’. Abingdon: Routledge.

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change[online]. [accessed 7 January 2020].

Thorley, C. (2017) Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.

Universities UK (2017) #stepchange mental health in higher education [online]. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/stepchange/Pages/default.aspx [accessed 10 January 2020].

 

 

 

How to have the best experience of studying sport at The Open University

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and secondly, thank you for choosing to study on the sport, fitness, and coaching degree. We have a range of fantastic courses for you to study to support you towards achieving a fulfilling career working in sport or fitness. During this turbulent year of 2020 it seems to me that sport has become even more important. Research has shown that fit and healthy people are less affected by Covid-19 and as a result we have   been encouraged to take daily exercise outdoors, and the fitness industry has seen a surge in people engaging with online fitness platforms. During this time I felt lost when there was no live sport for three months and like many others have binged on sport since its return.

As a sport and fitness student it is likely that you feel as passionate about sport and fitness as I do and in this blog I want to encourage you to make the most of your undergraduate studies. I want you to get the best value for the personal and financial investment you have undertaken and the sacrifices you may have to make. While sport and fitness offer a range of exciting careers and the opportunity to work with interesting and inspiring people the job market is highly competitive. Sport science, studies and sports coaching courses are now the most popular degree course in the UK with around 15,000 graduates a year leaving around 138 universities that offer these degrees. Indeed there are almost 1500 students enrolling, along with yourself, on year 1 sport and fitness modules at The Open University.

Therefore, it is advantageous to get ahead of this competition and give yourself as great an advantage for the future as you can. We appreciate that you have busy lives and finding time to study may not always be easy as you juggle work, family, and social commitments. These conflicting priorities can lead to students being tactical in how they study. To encourage you to make the absolute most of your time spent studying with us and to maximise your learning and enjoyment I will offer three pieces of advice for you to consider whilst studying.

 

  1. Engage with all the resources available to you and read as much as you can.

In your module materials you will find a range of resources. There are readings, audio and video clips to watch and listen to, websites to visit and activities to complete. We will also offer additional resources at certain points so that you can find out more. We would encourage you to learn as much as you can about the subjects you are studying by reading widely and visiting websites related to the subject. Social media offers a plethora of opportunities and you can follow experts and influencers that you are interested in. For example, Twitter enables you to follow coaches, personal trainers, and academics in sport.

 

 

  1. Engage with your tutor and your fellow students as much as possible.

Before you start your module you will be assigned a tutor and a tutor group. Your tutor will tell you how to contact them and you will be given information about the schedule of tutorials. You will also find out about your online tutor group forum where you can meet and interact with other students.

This engagement with other people is crucial to your understanding of the module materials as some of the most valuable learning is described as social learning where you learn from other people. Discussing and debating can give you different perspectives on a subject and hearing other student’s experiences can broaden your own understanding. This kind of learning will happen during tutorials and during collaborative tutor group forum activities. During the learning process it is vital that you do not accept all content without questioning it. Ask yourself – ‘where did this knowledge come from?’ ‘Are there other ways of doing things?’

Discussing, debating, and questioning will improve your understanding of a subject but it will also develop critical skills that are so crucial in higher education and valued by employers.

  1. Always keep in mind the question ‘How does this relate to me?’

While knowledge is exciting to have it is most valuable when you can actually apply it. This may be applying it to your own working practice or to help yourself and other people. So, you must always find opportunities to apply your knowledge. This may be reflecting on past experiences and gaining new perspectives on them or thinking about how you can use the knowledge now or in the future.

I have always found that when people know I am involved in sport science they have questions about their training or their diet. Let people know you are studying sport and fitness and talk to them about it and express your views if the opportunity arises. Sharing your knowledge with other people is a great way to increase your own knowledge and understanding of a subject.

 

Final thoughts

As I said earlier we appreciate that studying is just one factor amongst many competing for your time and it may be difficult to implement all three pieces of advice consistently. However, if you bear them in mind during your studies you will improve your chances of success both during your studies and in the future.

We hope you have a wonderful experience during your time studying sport, fitness, and coaching at The Open University.

 

Simon Rea is a Lecturer on the sport and fitness award at The Open University and the author of the books Careers in Sports Science (2019) and Sports Science – a complete introduction (2015).

Credit transfer to BSc (hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching

Perhaps you are feeling unsatisfied or demotivated with your current degree study and you need a different way of studying to unlock your academic potential? If so, then it might be time to think about transferring credit to study the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at The Open University. We have a range of interesting and exciting modules from level 1 to level 3 which make up our degree. Typically, students transferring credit will study level 2 or level 3 modules depending on their circumstances and their available credit. We have two level 2 modules (E235 Sport and Exercise Psychology in Action; E236 Applying sport and exercise sciences to coaching) and two level 3 modules (E313 Exploring psychological aspects of athletic development; E314 Exploring contemporary issues in sport and exercise).

For all our modules, you will learn online in a range of engaging ways to meet your learning needs. This includes learning through interactive activities, academic readings in books and journals, listening to audio and viewing videos such as sport and exercise in action, using exercise science apps, and tutor group forum discussions with other students and your tutor. The online distance study provides you with great flexibility to study from home or on the move and enables you to fit your study around your other commitments such as work and family life. These are just some of the key benefits of studying in this way with the OU. The video below explains more.

Although you will study independently as an online distance student you certainly will not be alone. In fact, you will receive a high level of support from your tutor via tutorials, assessment feedback, forums, emails and telephone contact. We also have a fantastic Student Support Team and a range of other study resources to support your academic progress. There are many other great opportunities and benefits of being a Sport and Fitness student at the OU. The Sport & Fitness team holds a range of conferences and events that you can attend online and in person. You will also be part of the OU Sport and Fitness community and have an identity as part of #TeamOUsport.

If you would like to explore your options for credit transfer and take the next step towards studying the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at the OU please visit http://www.open.ac.uk/study/credit-transfer/.

Join our team: Lecturer in Sport and Fitness

Salary:  £41,526 – £49,553
Location: Milton Keynes
Reference: 17329
Closing date: 8th June 2020 (midday)

Note: This post is available as a full-time post or two 0.5 part-time posts.

We are seeking to appoint an enthusiastic Lecturer in Sport and Fitness to join our vibrant team and undertake responsibilities that include:

  • the development and delivery of Sport and Fitness modules and resources
  • writing and updating distance learning modules and resources, including print, audio, video and information/communications technology materials
  • contributing to the Faculty’s programme of research and scholarship and to the academic development of the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University.

The successful candidate will have:

  • a higher degree or equivalent professional knowledge in Sport and Fitness or a related field as well
  • proven experience of curriculum development and course design
  • an understanding of different approaches to studying Sport and Fitness
  • evidence of engagement in research and scholarship through a variety of activities such as publications, gaining of external funding and/or widely recognised and disseminated contributions to learning and teaching in Sports and Fitness
  • a strong record of research and/or knowledge exchange that is commensurate to the position.

For more information click on the links below:

Job Description

Information about Sport and Fitness qualifications at The Open University

Information about the Sport and Fitness team at The Open University

Click here for more information and to apply

Join Our Team: Lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Coaching

Salary: £40,792 – £48,677
Location: Milton Keynes
Reference: 15260
Closing date: 27 November 2018 (5pm)

 

We are seeking an enthusiastic Lecturer to join our vibrant team of nine academic staff involved in writing online/print materials, overseeing online teaching and engaging in research that connects with our growing BSc (Hons) in Sport, Fitness and Coaching (around 2,700 students). You will be able to teach a range of sport and exercise related topics and work collaboratively with colleagues to develop high impact text, video and audio resources for students and wider public engagement.

You will join a team which has created an innovative Sport, Exercise and Coaching curriculum. We would welcome applications from specialists in a particular field of sport and exercise, but you will be expected to write some teaching materials outside your subject area. You will contribute to our existing curriculum and potential new curriculum (e.g. new modules and qualifications).

You must have a higher degree in Sport and Exercise Science or a related field, some published research, and a detailed knowledge of teaching this in sport, exercise or coaching. You will have an understanding of distance learning; an ability to write clearly for a diverse student audience and have proven experience of teaching in higher education.

Job Related information (including person specification)

Information about Sport and Fitness qualifications at The Open University

Information about the Sport and Fitness team at The Open University

Click here for more information and to apply

 

Student Story: John Curd (part 2)

Back in 2016 we featured John Curd in one of our ‘student stories’. John has a truly inspirational story and shows how studying with the OU can really turn your life around. John has now completed his BSc (hons) in Sport, Fitness and Coaching and recently attended his graduation ceremony. As you can see from the photographs he had a great day. As one of our older graduates John is proof that’s it’s never to late to achieve your dreams. We are very proud John and all of our sport and fitness graduates. If you have recently graduated and would like to share your graduation photos and/or tell us what your graduation day was like please contact us at WELS-Sports@open.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read part 1 of John’s student story click here.

To read all of our student stories click here.