Super Bowl Psychology: Why Athletes Choke and How to Avoid It

Posted on February 7, 2017

Photo: flickr

You might not be aware of it, but professional sports teams are often with another type of coach--a psychologist. Sports psychologists work with teams to build a stable and healthy mentality for players when faced with the pressure of a big game. Why is this needed? Even after weeks or months of training, players, professional or not, can easily "choke" under pressure.

The term "choking" refers to succumbing under pressure or heavy expectations to the extent where the fear of failure inhibits one's ability and true potential. That is, if a person's mental state is not strong enough to overcome thoughts that provoke anxiety, it can affect their physical performance. Sian Beilock, a neuroscientist, explains that chocking actually causes people to perform worse than they do on average--all because they find the situation to be highly stressful.

Beilock does suggest a method to overcome this phenomenon. Simply, focus on the end goal and not the short-term steps in achieving it. Thinking to much about doing A, B, then C will actually hinder the overall performance. When players train and master a skill, they actually engage in an autopilot-like state and perform well. However, anxiety and stress can block this, causing a player to overthink and over analyze the situation. For example, we all walk down the stairs easily and often without consciousness of the action. Yet if we were to focus on going down each step, one at a time, chances are we would likely fall on our faces!

The best thing to do is work on exercises that will calm your body and focus on the goal. Eyes on the prize!


Source material from Scientific American


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