What is “Flow”

Flow is a term that came into usage during the 1970’s, as the sport of Freestyle began to grow more advanced. For the first time, players achieved the ability to string a great number of moves together. Through the process of combining individual moves, efficient transitional movement had to be performed and the term coined for this was flow. Players began to recognize the value of flow, not just functionally, but also it made their game look so much more polished. Soon it was something to be practiced and worked upon as much as the moves themselves. Speed flow was invented which combined trick throws and catches in a flowing unbroken style of movement.
As modern Freestyle evolved later in the seventies with its delay moves, continuation etc., flow was rapidly incorporated into the jargon and recognized as an integral part of the game.

Flow can be achieved in many ways and through many divergent styles, but it always seeks to create the appearance of smooth unbroken movement while executing moves. A drop or throw away is usually the greatest detractor from achieving flow, while unintentional bobbles, misses miss-hits, poor footwork and other mistakes also subtract from a freestyler’s flow. Flow is enhanced by the way in which a player moves. The use of good form and positioning as a player carries out a succession of moves contributes much to the appearance of flow. Flow is more than just executing move after move without breaks. It is executing those moves with extension, grace, form and timing in succession without break or error.

Obviously, flow is a good attribute to add to your game. So how do you increase your level of flow? Like any of the other components of freestyle, flow is increased and perfected through practice and becoming familiar with a wide variety of moves. Some players have a certain grace of movement that will help them develop a flowing form more rapidly than other. But in actuality, it boils down to becoming adept at doing each particular move correctly, free from error and with proper body positioning. Then, and most importantly, a player must add to their moves precise timing, free from misguided breaks in either form or motion, so that they smoothly transition from one move to another and so on, until a clean catch is made.

Think of a series of freestyle moves like a sentence consisting of descriptive words. Flow would be, in part, the way in which the writer chose and placed the words, but even more importantly, it would be the skill in which they read those words to the listener.

Flow is what makes consecutivity successful. Even novice players can put together a group of moves in succession, but to make it look good flow must be present. The real experts have perfected their play to a point where they can flow from one difficult move to the next, making adjustments along the way as needed, plugging in a move here and improvising a series there, making it all blend into a smooth expression of their game.

A high level of flow is always difficult to achieve. There are so many variables to contend with, both in the environment and with the ongoing decision making processes going on between the player’s ears. Winds are often variable, footing can be uneven, the sun can suddenly be right in your eyes, obstacles can confront you, and distractions may
appear and take you off of your game. It takes focus, confidence and the ability to make those timely adjustments in play to keep those awkward breaks and uneven movement to a minimum.

Decisions… quick decisions, these can affect flow, also. A progression of moves must be strung together seamlessly to exude flow. To do this a player must have confidence and familiarity with a number of different types of moves and be able to rapidly decide upon the next move as the series or co-op develops. A split second of indecision will usually end up as a break in flow. Many players practice a series of moves over and over until the whole series becomes as one continuous flowing move. This method does not allow for much latitude when the wind become extreme, but often sections of the entire series can be joined to sections of other series as conditions warrant.

Flow is an important part of every style of freestyle play. From fast peel out shredding, to the slower control types of freestyle, flow is the glue that holds the presentation of moves together. It is easy to see when a player executes a series of graceful spinning rim pull outs. But, it is also just as important with percussive moves, or in the blending of widely different speeds and movement, though you might not consider these as flowing styles while watching them. Even a move with the lack of movement, like a benign or catch can be an important part of flow, if it is joined with proper timing to the moves before and after it.

In many sports when a player is said to be in ‘a zone’ they have achieved a playing state that is of total concentration and performance. When a freestyler reaches ‘the zone’ then flow is also maximized. During many longer jams a high level of flow can be reached at for a short time. Occasionally, during a long session, this level can be maintained for a long period, perhaps an hour or more, both individually and cooperatively with the people you are playing with. To experience this level of flow is one of the greatest things about our sport. At the end of the day after one of those jams you might remember a few highlight series of moves or co-ops and it just seems like you’ve pulled off something quite incredible. To reach a high state of flow during a jam may be the single most addicting and enjoyable aspect of the sport.

Flow is an open-ended deal. It is impossible to continually be performing it at a maximum level and yet it is something all of us should be striving for. So keep on practicing, learn as many moves as possible and start stringing them together in different combinations. Pay attention to how those combinations affect flow. Soon your body will instinctively and rapidly be able to react to more and more variations of moves with proper footwork and body positioning. When you practice, try to spend some time focusing more on flow instead of just moves, and see what happens. Often the moves will begin to just happen and the flow will take over with surprising results. Don’t ever downplay the importance of flow.

Carl Dobson

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