Critically discuss the mechanisms which attempt to explain choking in sports performance, and describe the variables that may decrease the occurrence of choking.
CHOKING IN SPORTS
In this assignment, we have evaluated the different theories which attempt to explain the phenomenon of choking in sports. This is accompanied by a discussion of the different factors that lead to choking.
In sports, choking is referred to the phenomenon when a team or an individual loses from a seemingly infallible position. From the South Africans in the 1999 world cup to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 French Open, sporting history is filled with instances of choking. From a seemingly inevitable winning position the athlete does something unfathomable and from there goes on to lose the contest. There may be quite a few factors which contribute to this phenomenon for example fear of outcome or poor preparation.
There are several theories as to what causes “choking”.
ATTENTIONAL CONTROL THEORY
This suggests that the athlete on being distracted by some less important task loses focus on the primary task at hand. A small rain delay during an innings, crowds chanting during a service game or other external stimuli that cause a disruption in the athlete’s attention.
PROCESSING EFFICIENCY THEORY (PET)
This theory states that under high-stress situations the athlete shifts his attention to the outcome of the contest rather than on his game play or the next point or the next delivery. Also as a consequence of this stress, the athlete focuses extra attention on every minute detail of his own game, more than he would normally do. His response to standard situations is different from that say in a practice session (Hammond, 2014).
Some factors can be managed to reduce chances of choking.
STRESS MANAGEMENT –
Managing stress during a match can be critical to an athlete’s success. Some techniques of managing stress on the field may include picturing one’s previous triumphs or saying positive things to oneself. In tennis, players like Nadal have a set routine consisting of up to 12 steps between points that he does just to ensure he is in the right mental space for the next ball that comes his way.
FEAR OF FAILURE -
Sporting psychologists across the globe are trying to train their mentees into thinking that failure at one stage does not mean that success is out of one’s reach. Federer’s eventual triumph at Roland Garros after having failed thrice previously is being a case in point. When one fears failure, he/she can never perform to its full potential. The reverse is also true when the prize of winning is very high for example a Grand Slam title, certain portions of the brain malfunction and the chances of choking go up. Making the player feel in control of his mind and maintaining his composure becomes very important then (Presley, 2012).
Choking mostly occurs due to mental factors as studies suggest. More often than not choking occurs when one’s mental faculties are not in sync with the physical faculty. Teams and individual sportspersons are heavily investing in mental conditioning. In high stakes encounter the party which is mentally stronger and can keep their nerve during crunch situations usually wins the contest. Cognitive conditioning can go a long way towards decreasing the chances of a sportsperson or a team from squandering winning opportunities.
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1. Hammond, C. (2014). Why we choke under pressure. London: BBC.
2. Presley, B. (2012). Mental Resilience. Atlanta: Penguin.