“To choke is to wilt under pressure, to fail to perform at the moment of greatest importance.”
– The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance
The antihero to the clutch player is the choker.
Here’s an expert definition: a “worse performance than expected given what a performer is capable of doing and what this performer has done in the past.”
I’m sure you’ll remember back to your playing days and recall that you were pretty nervous before every competition. For example, I ran the 400m for my track team in high school. Every race (three times a week), I stood at the start line and internally berated myself for choosing to do that event. Before every race (Every. Single. One.) I’d tell myself I was an idiot for choosing to run that race and that I’d never run it again. Then I’d run, it’d be fine, I’d run it again at the next meet.
Those are nerves…totally normal.
Choking is different. Something happens that prohibits a person from getting beyond their nerves. Choking is anxiety gone all wrong.
Why do people choke?
Quite simply, they’re so worried about messing things up…that they mess things up!
Helping our athletes beat the choke monster
- Change their self-talk. As my assistant coach says, you’ve got to ask some players to think about what they’re doing on the court. Others, you’ve got to tell, “Don’t think!” I’d say our chokers fall into the latter category.
- Don’t worry about the outcome, just the task at hand. Being present will help. Again, don’t think…just do.
- Control breathing. I encourage my players to breathe in their nose, hold it for a moment, and then let it out. The article talked about some sort of nervous system reaction that responds to this, but I like it because it focuses their brain on something other than what they’ve got to execute.
Our players can’t always control the direction a game goes, but they can control their reaction to it.