Stop Choking in Sports
Hey Everyone, it’s Patrick Alban from SPMI here. I just started a new youtube channel that I look to bring great value to everyone watching. Whether your’e an athlete, parent, coach, or a high performer in any profession. In these videos, I’ll make sure to dive into mental toughness topics that will help you reach your their full potential. And In this video I’m gonna share a few techniques on how to overcome the one thing that every athlete and high performer dreads.....choking. Now I’m not talking about the type of choking that involves getting something stuck in your throat. Yes, that feeling’s also dreadful. No, I’m talking about the type of choking that’s initiated from our fears. Now I know for many of you, just the word choking brings back some bad memories and feelings. Those moments, when you’re body gets tight, your heart races, and you notice your thoughts just compounding one after the other. You may even catch yourself stumbling over your words or hyper ventilating. If you haven’t already thought of a moment in your past like this, take a few moments to think of one and also take a brief moment to SMASH the like button! Now when thinking back to a moment when you experienced choking, It could be one from a particular competition or even while giving a speech or during a job interview. Whatever memory comes to mind, you know one thing’s for sure, it’s not a nice feeling and I for one can definitely relate to it even on a personal level. You see, when I was a junior tennis player it was one of my biggest struggles.
And I was known to many tennis players as a great “practice player” but when it came to playing tournaments, especially against particular players, I would tighten up like the tin man from the wizard of oz!
In fact, I can clearly remember one specific moment when I was around the age of 16. At this time, I played against the same player 3 times in a short span of only 5 weeks and the first 2 times I was a nervous wreck! So how did this come about? Well I’ll get to that shortly. But first, let’s talk about some of the reasons why we as athletes and performers choke. First off, Choking is about perception and the amount of meaning we give to situations. You see, the more meaning you give to a situation, the more you start to care about it. For example, if an athlete is competing in practice they most likely won’t get as nervous as they would if they were competing in a championship game or tournament. So the meaning the athlete places on the event is directly related to how much pressure they’ll feel before and during that event.
Also, remember it isn’t just about the amount of meaning you place on an event that adds pressure.
For many athletes, it’s about the amount of meaning that other people place on them and how much that athlete cares what they think or how much influence that individual has over their future. For example, I’ve helped hundreds of high school athletes overcome the pressure of competing in front of the eyes of college coaches. Helping the deliver their best performance when it counts the most. These athletes have gone on to get signed by top universities and have an outstanding college playing career. But why do many high school athletes get so nervous in front of those coaches? Because to many of those athletes, those college coaches are only ones who stand between them and their dreams of playing for that program. Now combine that with the fact that many high school athletes only choose a small sample of colleges that they wish to play for and the pressure amounts even more. Once again it takes on even more meaning because those athletes have chosen very few options to play for.
The second factor that leads to choking uncertainty. This means, the level of uncertainty an athlete feels going into a competitive situation that they can get the job done!
In these situations athletes and performers needs to feel sure that they can succeed and not mess up. So for many athletes when they’re not sure if they can win or succeed their mind will race searching for as many clues as possible to confirm their safety during the upcoming competition. So going back to my tennis example when I was 16 years old. I placed a lot of meaning on this particular scenario and as a result I felt very nervous! You see, playing against this particular player mattered more because other friends and players told me how good he was. Plus combine that with how highly ranked he was, what prestigious school he played for, and who he’s beaten. This information just pushed my nerves into over drive. Not to mention that at 16 years of age. I cared a lot about what other people thought of me and my game. So whenever I stepped on the tennis court, I dreaded the idea of those same people watching me as I played against this player.
The second component of choking as I mentioned earlier is our struggle with uncertainty. You see, I was very uncertain if I had what it took to beat this player, let alone NOT get embarrassed. So then what happened as a result was somewhat comical looking back at it now, but far from it while I was in the mist of facing it.
The first time I played this player I got so tight that I couldn’t relax my arms and got into what we refer to in tennis as a pushing contest. For all of you non-tennis players listening. That means I started hitting the ball softer, trying not to miss. This is another sign of choking that you see displayed in all sports. For example, a basketball player or soccer player will stop shooting the ball or taking shots and instead will pass it off whenever they have a chance of scoring. A person in sales will avoid asking the hard questions and instead let the prospect dictate the conversation, just hoping that he or she decides to buy. So this behavior in sports and in life, is just one example of when athletes and performers try their best to avoid mistakes.
There’s a popular saying in many sports that perfectly describes this behavior. Always play to win instead of playing not to lose. So, when this is all happening to the athlete, mistakes start looking more like a deadly poison. As a result for me, I ended up going 3 long sets against this player even being up in the third set and then getting even more nervous and eventually losing in a third set tie-break. That means the match was really close! Now, on paper it looked like it wasn’t a bad performance but I knew I could play much better and I was disgusted at how I let the nerves get the best of me. Sure enough, I played against this same player 2 weeks later in another tournament! This time I was nervous and tight again. The same pressures creeped up this time and an additional pressure even popped into my mind. The pressure to now prove that I could beat this player and the expectation from others that I SHOULD play better than last time.
In the second match I battled through the nerves in another very tight and long 3 set match lasting over 3 hours and barely won. Or as I mentioned earlier in the saying. I barely didn’t lose. Now after the match was over, I was so disgusted with the way I played the past two times that I asked this player if we could exchange numbers and play on our own sometime in the near future. This was because I knew that I could play a lot better than what I showed and I believe he also felt the same. So he happily agreed and we set a time to play a match the following weekend.
And now came the time to play him for a 3rd time. That day, I remember arriving at the court to play him. It was a huge parking lot completely empty with only his car and mine and there were over 15 tennis courts there but we were the only players playing that day. No spectators, not even a stranger passing by. That day I remember approaching the tennis court determined to win but I noticed that my mind was so much quieter and the nerves were gone. The meaning of this moment in my life was completely different. It wasn’t about proving. It wasn’t about protecting myself from embarrassment. It was about going out there and playing my game to the best of my ability and not settling for anything less. That day, I won that match 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour! Everything was working, especially my mind. And one of the biggest reasons why, was meaning. Playing against this player in a practice match where the match didn’t mean anything and no-one was there to watch or judge me relaxed my mind enough to just go out there and play free and get this...EVEN HAVE FUN!!!! Instead of fearing mistakes, I was actually looking forward to seeing the ball come back to my side of the court so that I could attack it again.
So the lesson here is to be aware of several factors. First, to avoid choking you want to focus on certainty. In many cases this means focusing only on what you can control. And one big area that none of you can control is what other people think about you or how other athletes, teams, or other prospects will compete against you. Just throw that idea out the window. But be careful, focusing on areas of certainty does not mean that you should search for 100% certainty. Focusing on perfect certainty will actually increase worry and tension. So make sure to focus on just enough certainty or an area where you feel more certainty than another.
The second is meaning. Make sure that you understand clearly what this competition means to you. If you see this upcoming competition like it’s the make all be all moment of your life, than most likely your’e going to perform really bad. But if you treat it as simply another competition, then you’ll be on pace to performing more closely to your full potential and far away from the dreadful choking.
And third, focus on enjoying the pressure and not trying to avoid it. To many athletes, this means stay away from focusing on not trying to make mistakes and instead focus on playing your game. Also, focus on little things that you enjoy about the competition such as the feeling of challenging your skills every time. Use competition as a moment of exploration instead of destination. This means, with every moment, take the chance to put your skills into play and see where they take you and what you learn from it!
So guys, If you enjoyed this video please please give it a thumbs up. I greatly appreciate it. I just started this channel and my mission here is to provide everyone with much more great content and your likes help a lot. Also, please subscribe to the channel to stay up to date on the latest mental toughness tips, interviews, and more, to make sure that your mental game is in top shape for every upcoming challenge that lies ahead! And lastly, if you’re interested in taking your mental toughness to the next level don’t hesitate to contact SPMI to learn more or click on the company link below to get started. SPMI is a mental toughness company that has helped thousands of athletes and high performers in their various professions reach their goals by helping them build the mental toughness blueprint needed to perform to their full potential when it matters the most.