Last month Mindful.org published a great article by Sharon Begley breaking down why choking occurs under pressure and strategies to avoid it. Some of the highlights:
WHY DO PEOPLE CHOKE?
As has been noted in previous posts when a skill is well learned there should be less activation of the prefrontal cortex the area of the brain charged with higher level thinking including judgement, analysis, and problem solving. However, when we consciously focus on a task we engage this part of the brain shifting from a trusting mindset to a training mindset. This not only slows athletes down but creates a momentary gap between their genuine ability and their present capability.
HOW TO AVOID CHOKING?
30 semi-professional soccer players who squeezed a ball with their left hand performed as well before a crowd as during practice, while non-squeezers missed more shots in the pressure situation. Similar tests performed on judo experts and badminton aces showed similar effects.
According to choking researcher Sian Bielock, who literally wrote the book on choking, singing activates areas of the brain that limit the impact of ruminating thoughts.
A third strategy meditation was briefly discussed , but that topic will be explored in more detail in a future post.
Choking can impact anyone at anytime and it is useful to have a strategy in place to defend against it. Even better is to have a strategy that you have put into practice purposefully.