Choking Under Pressure – Part 2

How to avoid it

Choking Under Pressure - Part 2

In my previous BTM article, I introduced situation-based commonalities I have experienced when working with athletes who are susceptible to choking under pressure. I also covered common personality characteristics identified in the research literature that are associated with choking.

In this article, I will explain what researchers suggest happens when choking occurs and also provide evidence-based interventions from the research that might keep you from succumbing to choking. Let’s start by first talking about what happens to concentration when people struggle to performance under pressure.

Choking and concentration lapses

Before going into interventions that can help in reducing the likelihood of choking, it is important to understand what happens when someone experiences choking. Most researchers believe that choking is a product of unnecessary shifts of concentration as a result of increases in anxiety levels.

In a normal, non-pressure situation, a bowler’s attention is on his pre-shot routine and stance. Then, the focus is on hitting his target before crushing the pocket with the ball, right?

Correct! Unfortunately, for some bowlers, when anxiety increases, concentration shifts from these relevant “cues,” such as their setup and the target they want to hit, to things that aren’t relevant or important. These could be things like thinking about winning, thinking too much about execution, and worrying about other people’s judgments if you perform poorly (yes, there are many other reasons too, but I’ll stop there).

The bottom line is that you have to decrease the likelihood of being distracted by things that are not under your control and attempt to control where your attention is during pressure situations. It is also important to understand what is important to concentrate on and what is not. For example, the pressure of the situation and thoughts related to what others may think are distractions from what is important to the delivery of the bowling ball.

Understanding personality characteristics and choking-related thoughts does not necessarily translate into prevention of choking at the applied level. But, employing interventions that can minimize the likelihood of choking do help your case. Thus, when discussing choking interventions, it is important to determine what you think about during pressure situations to identity and match up your thoughts with the particular invention you should use.

I am a big believer of promoting great articles from BTM’s other contributors. Susie Minshew’s recent article titled Your Popoff Valve: Using journaling to develop your pressure shot links well with this choking article. It explains the importance of journaling to help you become aware of your difficulties during pressure situations. Ultimately, Susie explained that if you can become more aware of what you think about when you are under pressure, you might be able ...

Chris Mesagno

About Chris Mesagno

Dr. Chris Mesagno is a senior lecturer in Exercise and Sport Psychology at Federation University Australia and received his Ph.D. from Victoria University (Australia), specializing in Sport Psychology and Motor Learning. Dr. Chris is a competitive bowler of 30 years, he was a member and assistant coach of the University of Florida bowling team from 1998-2001, and he is a Tenpin Bowling Australia Level 1 Certified Coach.