Whenever I would choke, my coach, Dad, or sport psychologist would tell me that all I need to do was believe in myself.
They would say things like, "You are a great athlete, why are you second-guessing yourself like this? Just go out there and play the way you KNOW you can." ... Sound familiar?
If so, you know how ridiculously superficial and UNHELPFUL this advice is.
Fortunately, I refused to give up on figuring out the sports psychology mindset needed to win under pressure. What I soon realized is that rather than ignore the fact that you have choked, you need to ask yourself WHY you choked.
Case Study in Choking
Here is a typical case study from an athlete (Branden, a badminton player) I worked with recently:
"Lisa, I won the first match and was up 18-12 in the second. I just needed three points to close it out. But I got anxious. I hit the bird into the net and then out. He got momentum, I got frustrated, I ended up losing the tournament. Lisa, I need more mental strength."
Can you see Branden's MAJOR problem? ... What is he missing?
He is doing what 97% of athletes do. He is thinking about the fact that he got nervous and choked and he is putting himself down for choking.
He forgot to ask WHY he got so nervous. If you try to fix your sport mental game without answering this question first, you will spin your wheels forever.
So, I asked my badminton player the one question he WASN'T asking: "What was happening in this match that made you so nervous?"
Turns out his opponent was a long-time rival.
Branden beat him five months ago by moving him around the court. See, Branden is a smart player. He is quick. He specializes in exhausting the other player, so he cannot get shots back.
That is how he won five months ago. But then the inevitable happened.
After he got beat, Branden's rival got mad.
Then he got better.
When he saw Branden again, he was returning Branden's shots.
This unnerved Branden, who counts on his opponent not being able to get the bird back.
And here is the truth: There is a story behind every match, every game, and every race.
There are physical, technical, and tactical REASONS why one side wins.
There are not many flukes in sport and that is why it is so sweet when you win.
But Branden forgot to dig up the story and my guess is he did not want to face the story.
But that is how you prevent choking, my friend.
How to Prevent Choking
When you get scared, you need to figure out WHY you are so scared. There is usually a very good reason, and it is often technical, strategical, or physical.
Something is happening out there that is making you scared.
Once you know what it is, your power is back. You are now in a position to solve the problem. Ignore the problem, and your nerves will only get more intense.
That is why you need to learn the psychology in sport needed to emotionally prepare yourself for every scenario.
Courage to Win® in Sport Process
Using the Courage to Win® in Sport process, you will have an answer for every challenge. It is a simple process you can use to figure out a poor performance and make sure it does not happen again.
- Start a mental toughness journal
- Take it with you to training and practice as well as competitions
- After every event, write your best thoughts on the following questions:
- What did I do in this competition that worked?
- What did I do in this competition that did not work?
- Was there anything unique about my opponents and their strategy that might have affected me mentally or emotionally?
- Did I stick to my game plan and execute it? Why or why not?
- Was I affected by any person in my competing environment? (Teammate, coach, parent, official)? ... How so?
Once you have answered these questions, you will know exactly what happened and be able to make any necessary adjustments.
Healing Your Disappointment
If you did not have your best showing, you might find yourself disappointed (or even crushed) by some of your mistakes or flaws.
This is perfectly okay. In fact, facing and dealing with your disappointment is crucial to eliminate nerves. ... Why?
Because if you want to be confident and motivated, you need to be “whole” emotionally.
This means healing your disappointment over past losses or failures.
You can heal your heart of any disappointment.
Years ago, I owned a summer training camp for kids to learn my sport. One day we took some girls roller blading and a five-year-old girl, Lyndsay, could not find a pair of roller blades to fit her.
When it became obvious she could not go, Lyndsay sobbed in disappointment.
Then Lyndsay's mother showed up, tired and impatient. "Lyndsay, stop crying."
Lyndsay's tears turned into hysterical sobs. Her mother: "If you keep this up, you will not be back tomorrow."
After a few moments, Lyndsay looked up at her mother and said, "I just want to cry a little." Lyndsay was only five years old, but she got it. Sometimes there is just loss and when that is the case, the crying IS the healing.
I have an assignment for you
The next time you feel sad about a poor performance and you get a lump in your throat, let go and cry a little. If you need to weep for a long time, do it ... for as long and as hard as you need to (after the event, of course!)
The only caveat is, you cannot fall into self-pity or you will feel worse and spiral downwards. You cannot protest about what has happened to you or become self-righteous about it.
You will be surprised how optimistic, energetic, and confident you feel and how easy it is to be confident.
Nurturing your heart is only part of being mentally tough.
Courage to Win in Sport Newsletter
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Your friend, Lisa Lane Brown - The Courage to Win
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
Lisa Lane Brown became interested in mental toughness, confidence, and self-mastery as an elite athlete as she struggled with extreme confidence swings when competing. What followed was the development of her Courage to Win® mental toughness strategies. Lisa can be contacted via her website.