3 Tips to Help Never “Choke” in Sports Again
Sports choking can be defined as “the inability to perform sport skills in competitive situations that have been previously executed in practice situations” (AHPS). Athletes who choke (or succumb to sports anxiety) are not bad players, as the truth about choking is that we all do it at various times in our lives. For an athlete it might be missing free throws in a game, and for non-athletes it might be bombing on a test because of anxiety, not because of a lack of knowledge about the subject covered on the test. As you might imagine, sport psychologists spend a lot of time helping athletes improve their mental toughness so that they can minimize choking and benefit by playing with great confidence and success.
Today I would like to offer 3 key tips to help you overcome choking which will allow you to reach your full athletic potential:
- Examine your irrational fears. Interestingly, choking stems from human fear — including both rational and irrational fears. For example, a rational fear would be when you are truly in harms way – like swimming in a body of water surrounded by sharks! Fortunately, most athletes don’t suffer from this type of fear, but instead the second type — irrational fear. Examples of irrational fear include worries about what the coach might decide when it comes to starting positions, or whether your parents will be happy with how well you play. While these are normal things for athletes to think about, worrying about these things will only negatively impact athletic performance!
- Focus on relevant factors that you can control. Athletes often succumb to choking when they begin to think of things that are irrelevant to their success (i.e. a hostile crowd) and/or beyond their control (i.e. a coaching decision about playing time). Since athletes cannot physical quiet a crowd or force a coach to play them more, it makes little sense to allow focus to be directed toward those things. Instead, develop positive pre-game and pre-play routines that put the focus on the only thing that is important – the next play!
- Keep a journal of your success. Every time you play well under pressure, come back from stress and adversity, or overcome situations where you previously choked, be sure to document your success! Re-reading your positive experiences in sports can be a confidence-developing technique, and since we don’t always do so well with remembering things, a sports journal can be a big help!
Sports anxiety can be a big problem for athletes, and in worst-case scenarios it can take an otherwise talented athlete and reduce him or her to an average one, at best. Be sure to use the tips provided above and I can assure you that you will not only choke less often, but also play a lot more consistently and with greater confidence!
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