No one likes it, but almost every athlete has fallen victim to it. It's that overwhelming feeling that an athlete gets when the pressure becomes so great that the athlete's performance takes a nose dive with no point of return. Choking is a state when the athlete becomes mentally overwhelmed with physical feelings such as nervousness, tightness, and even shaking. At this stage an athlete's performance worsens and negative emotions become more prevalent. One of the biggest factors that cause choking is a sudden and often unexpected change in an athlete's environment and how the athlete perceives the situation. As a result, athletes may have difficulty removing the clutter from their mind, may become distracted by outside factors in their environment (wandering eyes is a tell sign by many athletes during overwhelming moments), and may also have a reduced focus of flexibility. A reduced focus of flexibility means that the athlete may be so focused on something that they perceive as threatening that they may not be able to concentrate on the task at hand.
How can you stop choking? The first step is to understand the athlete's fear. When athletes come to SPMI, we perform thorough intake sessions and evaluations to understand, in detail, the reasons behind each athlete's struggles. Second, for the athlete, parent, or coach, it's important to reinforce positive perceptions to situations where an athlete may fear under performing. For example, an athlete may start to choke when they are being watched by college coaches. This could be due to the athlete's fearful perception of the situation as threatening. They may be telling themselves that if they do not perform well they will never be able to get into those colleges. These fearful thoughts, when rehearsed many times, only reinforce stronger feelings of choking.
If you are interested in more information about how to stop choking, check out the upcoming SPMI workshop. It will discuss, in more detail, how to stop the choking process from ever occurring again and much more. Every athlete, parent, and coach who is serious about enhancing performance should be a part of the event. Visit gospmi.com/register for more information.
Patrick Alban B.S., M.S.
To read more from Patrick Albán B.S., M.S., visit goSPMI.com.