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What Is Choking And Why Do Sportspersons Experience It? | Think, train & thrive with Keerthana

This is the story of Aisha – a budding badminton player, training relentlessly for her National Championship. Aisha is a promising player and has been consistently performing phenomenally. Her parents, coaches and even her friends are extremely proud and confident of her performance in the coming tournaments.


The one thing you need to know about Aisha is that she’s never doubted herself. She’s always been dedicated to her game. But, this time, it was different.

Even after months of training, the pressure of the match got the best of her. She suddenly started doubting her skills, and if she’ll be able to perform well.


What Aisha is experiencing, is probably not new to any athlete. In sports psychology, we define poor performance under pressure while having excellent talents and making personal efforts to perform at their best (Baumeister, 1984), as choking. An athlete is said to experience choking only when they intended to do better, and have the ability to perform, but are just unable to deliver.


In stressful and competitive situations, the pressure to win causes an athlete to choke.

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Explicit learning is when you consciously acquire a skill, while implicit learning is the learning that occurs outside of your awareness. It refers to the force, fluidity, touch and accuracy of doing a task.

Why do athletes choke?

Athletes perform under a lot of pressure. They need to concentrate on their game despite external distractions and noise. Here are some reasons why athletes may choke:

  • Fear of negative evaluation: obsessively worrying about how others will judge them

  • Extremely high level of motivation: There is a “sweet zone” in terms of motivation and performance, according to psychologists. If it’s not enough, athletes won’t provide their best effort. Too much makes it difficult for them to use their skills

  • Worried about performance: Frequently paying attention to performance concerns than skill execution

  • Tarnishing their legacy: Tension and fear of damaging the reputation built over previous games hinder performance

How does choking occur?


Before we understand how choking occurs, let’s learn two key terms – explicit learning and implicit learning.

Explicit learning is when you consciously acquire a skill, while implicit learning is the learning that occurs outside of your awareness. It refers to the force, fluidity, touch and accuracy of doing a task. Implicit learning improves with practice, and high-performing athletes have exceptionally developed implicit learning systems.


In stressful and competitive situations, the pressure to win causes an athlete to choke. The brain can become so engrossed in a single idea or task that it reverts to relying on the explicit system to complete the skill. This can be likened to a regression to a beginner status for athletes. As a result, when an athlete is ‘choking’, their performance can suffer significantly, with accuracy and the ability to apply the correct force both taking a nosedive.




How does choking impact an athlete?

Choking can have long-term and short-term effects on an athlete’s performance. Some of these includes:

  • Decrease in performance standards

  • Limited emotional control

  • Loss of self-confidence

  • Temporary or permanent withdrawal from sports

  • Unhealthy self-criticism

Some athletes may also have uncontrolled choking events every time they feel any pressure. This makes it vital to devise effective coping strategies and pre-performance routines to regulate the game.


For more details, www.keerthanaswaminathan.com





 
 
 

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