SPA 034: Understand Why You “Choked” and Screwed Up

Practice as you compete and compete as you practice.

“If I’m nervous, it means I had to work hard to get there, whether it’s playing in a tournament or speaking at an event. So I try to stop and be proud of getting to live in that moment.” – Maria Sharapova

I know some of you out there have this adage of being contented with your game as long as you played your best with the best of your abilities. For athletes like you, you are not concerned if you can do anything out of the ordinary or special to win a game miraculously.

You are training hard everyday to make sure when it comes to the game that matters, you can execute what you have learned during trainings as much as possible.

Sounds easy, you’ve been dribbling that same old ball for months and years, you’ve passed a ball to your teammates a million times, you’ve been swimming that same stroke since you were 13, so what’s the problem?

Problem is, it’s not about making mistakes. It’s when it comes to the moment that matters and as you start executing a skill, you realised it doesn’t feel the same as it was during your usual trainings. Nobody may be coming at you to take anything away from you, but you are more wary than ever at this point in time. You slow down whatever you are supposed to be doing at this moment, more so than you have been doing during your usual trainings.

Take dribbling a ball for example, at usual trainings, dribbling the ball is a bit like brushing your teeth, so automatic, something derived out of your regular habit, you are merely dribbling the ball to get ahead because you can’t run or move by carrying it with you.

It’s so simple, you’re not even thinking about it. It’s the same for any sport you are in, when you think you have mastered a certain skill fundamental to play a game, what do you start thinking about? You start to move away from thinking about this skill to some other skill or probably a bigger picture of the game.

That is good, you are learning something else to improve your game.

But when it comes to some game or some moment that matters to you, as you dribble, you get more conscious of your dribbling process, making sure the ball sticks near enough within your hand reach and before you pass a ball to your teammate, you think of making sure you pass it accurately to where you want the ball to go.

Suddenly you are not thinking about learning anymore, in fact you are now doing something you’ve never been doing at your usual trainings, which is focussing on your actions one step at a time.

At this point in time, many athletes even chant to themselves positive affirmations such as, “the ball is mine”, “I will make the pass accurate”, “make sure I dribble close enough to myself”, or “don’t act smart”. In general, you are laser focus on something that you’ve never been laser focussed on for the longest time.

That’s when you start to lose the ball as it magically slipped off your fingers or you passed the ball too wide off the course or when an opponent approaches you, you fumble.

Analysing this situation, there are a few things going on here.
So what’s the problem here?

As Yogi Berra famously said:

“How can you hit and think at the same time?”

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Sport and Exercise Psychology: International Perspectives

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