Mental Edge: Tips for avoiding choking

Photo Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press

Mental Edge: Tips for avoiding choking

High School Sports

Mental Edge: Tips for avoiding choking


Just saying “choke” has sweat bullets on the brow of the athlete.

It’s become the forbidden word in all of sports. It’s the biggest possible blunder in sport, or is it?

Every ambitious athlete has choked, no exceptions. If an athlete denies this he or she is in denial. Choking is the hush-hush of topics in sports. Similar to when an athlete is in the zone, none of the athletes surrounding him or her will dare mention the greatness transpiring, as you don’t want to break the spell. Likewise, when an athlete is struggling in the mire of a slump, no one talks about it in the dugout, or on the court or in the ring or on the field.

What is choking? Choking occurs when negative thoughts join forces with fear to paralyze the performer. Nothing halts a superb performance quicker than a choke. “Mo” (momentum) can be one-sided but when an athlete begins to choke, Mo swiftly swings to the opponent. What makes it worse, like all fear-based principles, is the more choking is feared or thought about, the more likely it will occur!

So, how can we keep this enemy of excellence at bay? Here’s some ammunition to combat the choking response:

  1. Knowledge: Arming ourselves with proper knowledge will conquer choking before it conquers us.
  2. Stay in the now: Remaining in the past causes a rut in the present. It digs a hole that makes escape harder and harder. When we live in the past it not only stifles our present but invades our future plans.
  3. Keep goals realistic: Whenever an athlete goes beyond their own expectations they may find themselves eyeballing the demons from within. The key to success in tense moments is to ensure that our expectations are reality-based. If our thoughts are higher than possible attainment, we’re just allowing in the choking fiend.

Choking occurs when confidence is at its lowest point. This is when athletes need to be their strongest, they need to have trust and a positive belief. They need to kick it into gear with a mental toughness that they won’t fear what’s in front of them to choke! The best athletes choose to believe the possible can occur, even when everything points to the impossible or unlikely. At these times, faith in one’s abilities, and the trust they have in themselves is the reason they can overcome the pressure and the Big Choke.


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Mental Edge: Tips for avoiding choking

Just saying “choke” has sweat bullets on the brow of the athlete.

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