Sports Leadership – Overcoming “Choking” for Improved Sports Performance
In sports it is not uncommon to hear about athletes “choking,” or being overcome with “the yipps.” I previously wrote a column about choking and mental toughness for Columbus Parent magazine, providing insights pertaining to how choking occurs, as well as specific sports psychology tips to use in response to the debilitating anxiety that often prohibits athletes from playing their best (Mind of Steel). Below is a more succinct model that reveals how human perception impacts and mediates how athletes deal with situations in sports – resulting in either good plays or “choking.”
Athletes face tough situations all the time – whether it’s working hard in practice to earn a starting spot, or trying to make a last-second free throw to win a game. It is in these situations where the athlete must deal with fear and self-doubt, the arch enemies to sport success. Ironically, the fear athletes experience is in large part irrational fear (meaning there is no real physical threat present). Still, even irrational fear (i.e. “what will people think of me if I miss this shot?”) will be manifested within the body in the same exact way as real fear is experienced (like when an angry dog is running after you). Both types of fear lead to physiological anxiety (increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and tense, tight muscles). Of course, when these symptoms develop, focus then turns to controlling the anxiety symptoms rather than staying focused on the task at-hand (like making the free throw). Athletes will usually tell themselves things like “Don’t miss this shot,” and guess what? Of course, they miss the shot!
For whatever reason when we tell ourselves “don’t,” we usually do (try it – right now, don’t look behind you!).Of course, after the athlete misses the shot, negative self-talk usually occurs, leading to even more irrational fear and anxiety (and less confidence). If this cycle continues, a slump will be the long-term result.The great news is that choking can be dramatically minimized by working smarter! Coaches and parents who take the time to process what fears kids may be dealing with – and then work to diffuse those anxieties – will see a dramatic spike in athletic proficiency. The even better news is that overcoming anxiety is yet another terrific athletic transferable skill! Get started today by helping your child develop his own athletic performance improvement plan!
For more information on overcoming choking check out Mind of Steel, or Sports Success 360! www.drstankovich.com