How Athletes Can Stop Choking Under Pressure?

choking under pressureIt’s the 1986 World Series and the Boston Red Sox are winning by 2 runs in the last inning with 2 outs and 2 strikes on the batter. A very easy, slow ground ball was hit to Bill Buckner, the Red Sox first baseman, but instead of picking it up he let it go through his legs.  It went down as one of the worst chokes in the history of baseball.

World famous tennis player, John McEnroe was leading Ivan Lendl, 2 sets to 0 in the French Open and had not lost a match all year. McEnroe only needed one more set to win the Grand Slam title.  In the third set, his infamous temper got set off, when a cameraman nearby was too noisy for him. His game fell apart and Lendl won the next 3 to deny McEnroe the win and the title.

Learn How You Can Help Your Athletes To Stop Choking Under Pressure

choking under pressureMy name is Craig Sigl and I am the Mental Toughness Trainer for youth athletes.  I work with athletes all the time who feel paralyzed, because they choke under pressure.

Well I am here to tell you that choking under pressure happens simply because athletes way OVER think during a game.

You see from those examples that even pro athletes’ choke under pressure!  So, why does it happen?  The athlete is not focusing on playing the game, but is instead thinking about all the ways they might mess up.  This causes fear, which leads to a greater probability that they will choke.

You see, the trouble is that most of us humans have a lot more intelligence than we need to just play our sport and so we over think things.   All of that brainpower IS useful when you want to learn a new skill or strategies, but not when it causes negative emotions.

Once you have learned the basics of your sport, the best thing you could do is stop thinking and let your natural abilities and coordination shine through.

choking under pressureWhen you are thinking instead of focusing on playing, the voice in your head starts creating doubts and worries.  This triggers a tense or nervous feeling setting you up perfectly for a choke.

What’s the solution?  The simple solution is to channel all of your mental energy into focusing on the task at hand.  Sounds simple enough, but most athletes complain they have the most trouble focusing when they are under pressure.

I teach lots of different techniques for improving focus in our Mental Toughness Training, but I have great news for you…you ALREADY have the ability to be laser focused.

First you just have to become aware of how you use your focusing ability in other areas of your life and bring that ability over to competition time!

Here’s an example.  I regularly do workshops with youth sports teams for players as young as 11 and 12.  At one particular wrestling team talk, I asked the boys if they had any trouble focusing before and during their match and they all raised their hands.

choking under pressureI then asked them “Who plays video games?” and most of the kids raised their hand.  I then asked, “How long do you need to focus for a wrestling match?”  “About 5 minutes” was the consensus answer.  “And about how long do you play video games for?”  Some of them admitted to playing for hours without being distracted and the parents in attendance attested to that.

Why each young wrestler managed to focus for so long really doesn’t matter, does it?  All they need to do is recognize that they can stay focused in one area of their lives and realize that they CAN do it the same way in their sport! 

I could see the light bulbs going on in their heads when they put two and two together between their video game playing and their ability to focus while they wrestling.

Here’s the really great news…. You only need to work on calling up that mental strength for focusing for a short time when you are in danger of choking under pressure.

What you want to start doing is noticing when and how you do it in other areas of your life and what you are thinking when you DO focus.

Do you focus when watching your favorite TV show?  Do you focus when playing on Facebook?  Do you focus when reading a good book? Aren’t you having as much fun in your sport as playing a video game? Notice that you naturally know how to focus when you’re doing something you enjoy?!

choking under pressureGetting back to the fun of playing your sport and focusing on the mechanics, will keep that little voice in your head silent.

If Buckner had just called on that super focusing ability he had used countless times to field an easy ground ball or if McEnroe had kept his focus on the game rather than getting pissed off, then neither one of them would have probably choked.

Use every opportunity you can to practice your mental toughness, so that when crunch time comes and the game is on the line, you are ready with that superior focusing power you use every day!

What have you found helps when your athletes feel fear and pressure?  Let us know your experiences and what works for you in the comments below!

choking under pressureWelcome to the Winner’s Circle!

Craig Sigl, theMental Toughness Trainer

Learn more MENTAL TOUGHNESS TIPS by tapping here:
Youth Sports Mental Toughness.


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