Dillon, K and Tait, J (2000) 'Spirituality and Being in the Zone in Team Sports: A Relationship?', in Journal of Sport Behaviour, 23(2): 91--100.
[A marvellous psychological study here, correlating scores on two specially designed tests -- the Spirituality in Sports Test and the Zone Test. Both of these tests were shown to be internally consistent and well correlated with others such as the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory, and the Spiritual Involvement and Beliefs Scale. Who would have thought it?]
The positive feelings reported by sports people have been described variously -- peak experience, flow as in Csikszentmihalyi, or 'being in the zone'. A number of attempts have been made to measure these states, despite Csikszentmihalyi's own warnings of the dangers of reification. Nevertheless, attempts have been made to measure the States using '"a questionnaire, experience sampling methods, or in-depth interviews" (Jackson and Marsh 1996)' (92). [Using these flawed methods?], a number of measures have been seen to be associated with flow, such as 'positive mental attitude; positive pre-competitive and competitive affect; maintaining appropriate focus; physical readiness; enjoyment; satisfaction; better performance; hypnotic susceptibility and prior experience; readiness; skill level; perceived ability; intrinsic motivation; and mastery oriented focus' (92). Apparently, no relationship has been shown between 'competitive confident; exercise heart rate; and time transformation' [full references on page 92]. What is needed now is a measurement between spirituality and these positive feelings, to test the common assertions that spiritual states are involved.
There is certainly a new interest in spirituality [in the USA], and evident connections between professional sport and religious activities, such as pre-game prayer. In complex societies, spirituality is expressed in different ways -- such as belonging to a religious community or pursuing freedom of choice. 'Zinnbauer et al (1997)... found evidence for many dimensions of spirituality including fines or experiences of connectedness to a higher power, personal beliefs, integration of beliefs and daily life, desirable inner affective states, and personal growth or mastery' (93). For the purposes of this study, spirituality 'will be defined as experience in the presence of a power, a force, and energy, or a God close to you' (93). A 'scientific approach' would involve asking athletes to report this kind of experience in different situations in team sports. New instruments were designed -- the 'Spirituality in Sports Test (SIST)... and the Zone Test (ZT)' (94), to explore this field. The prediction is that there will be a direct relationship between the scores on these tests.
The test was carried out on 62 students at a non-sectarian College who were involved in sports teams. They were offered an incentive of a 'Gatorade TM or a Power Bar TM'. Different sports were involved including soccer, basketball , volleyball and hockey, and participants played at different levels. 39 men, 20 women and three non-responses were involved a questionnaire included demographic questions, the two Tests invented for this study and the 'Athletic Coping Skills Inventory - 28' (94). An additional group of 24 students were used to compare SIST and another scale -- the Spiritual Involvement and Beliefs Scale -- to test the validity of SIST.
Details of the tests are provided, page 95f. The ZT involves items such as '"I have had the feeling of being able to move around, between, or through my opponents"' [4 options] (95). The ZT was correlated with the Inventory-28 mentioned above, which measures 'psychological skills specifically related to sports including: coping with adversity, coach ability, concentration, confident and achievement motivation, goal setting and mental preparation, peeking under pressure, freedom from worry, and personal coping resources' (95). This Inventory was used following Csikszentmihalyi's view that skills have to be balanced with challenge for flow to occur. There were high correlations (0.39) indicating good internal consistency. Other correlations were made with other scales.
SIST is a 10 item test, including items such as '"I used spirituality or religiosity as a way to help me with the emotional roller-coaster of winning and losing"', again with four options. [This item seems so vague and open to personal interpretation that it makes you wonder if it's worth proceeding to look at the results?]. Again it was compared to another scale which has already been shown to have reliability and validity. Here, the correlation coefficient is 0.8.
The results [solemnly displayed as descriptive statistics and correlation coefficients, page 96] indicate 'significant relationships' between SIST and ZT (r=0.49, p< 0.001). Gender and the particular team sport played were not correlated separately because of the small numbers involved, but future research might investigate these relations, as well as breaking down spirituality into specific factors.
The tests have high reliability, shown by their correlation with more established tests and inventories, and the hypothesis is supported. However, spirituality is 'not the only variable related to been in the zone' (96) -- certain of the skills tested in the inventory are also significantly correlated with 'being in the zone more often' (96). The study found correlations and is unable to comment on the direction of relationships, nor on the possibility of third variables involved, such as 'propensity to altered states of consciousness [more generally]' or 'higher sensitivity ' (97). More research might be needed, possibly using an experimental design. There is also the issue about whether teaching programmes about spirituality might affect interest or abilities in sport, especially as Csikszentmihalyi suggests that flow is so pleasurable and central to an enjoyable life.
[Details of the actual tests are provided in the appendix. The ZT refers to matters such as being absorbed in the activity, out-of-body experiences, feeling you can do no wrong, feeling absolutely focused, losing self awareness, feeling self mastery and power, extraordinary perceptions of space or time. The SIST asks about whether people feel guided during the game or protected, helped to win, feeling better able to deal with pressures, avoiding drugs and alcohol, being positive towards mistakes.]
back to key concepts