DON'T CHOKE, How Athletes Can Become Winners


This book was published in 1982, but still has a wealth of information to help athletes prevent
choking under pressure. Reveals how and why the inability to cope with pressure can mean the
difference between winning and losing. Based on the idea that winning is not simply a matter of
physical strength and skill. This book gives athletes specific mental and physical techniques
they can use to overcome any psychological barriers that interfere with their ability to play well.
Complete with practical exercises that will help the coach pinpoint the reasons why athletes some-
time choke. Explains how the athlete can: * control excessive arousal and anxiety * reduce fear
of failure * reduce fear of failing to live up to someone's expectations * improve concentration
and block out distracting thoughts * become less concerned with what others think about them
when they compete * adopt the proper mental attitude * avoid feeling pressured by coaches *
and much more.


*Between 20 and 30 percent of the athletes with whom we've worked have obtained scores that strongly suggest they lose just as much, if not more, as a result of their inability to handle pressure as they do because of an opponent's superior physical skills.

* So what is this spur-of-the-moment cause that makes people shoot air balls, fan on a high-and-inside fastball, blow an eighteen-inch putt, or double-fault to lose? Two words, just two words, arousal and anxiety. Arousal and anxiety in competition can produce, among other things, poor concentration, frustration, and even a total sense of helplessness.

*On one hand, arousal is absolutely necessary for optimal performance in sports. Too little arousal, for instance, decreases alertness, motivation, and overall performance. On the other hand, too much arousal leads to...."a troubled feeling; experiencing a sense of dread espcially of the future, or distress over a real or imagined threat to one's mental orl physical well-being....too much arousal is akin to psyching oneself out and leads to debilitating levels of anxiety.

* A great practice player does not necessarily make a great game player. In a practice session, the sources of arousal are relatively constant, increasing the likelihood that an athlete can achieve and maintain an optimum level of arousal. But in a game situation, the sources of arousal can fluctuate tremendously....his or her level of arousal can be influenced by such diverse factors as time, the score, the opponent, the crowd, the coach, and the play of teammates.

* When Reggie Jackson walked to the plate during his final and record-tying appearance in could he not be aroused with 55,000 screaming fans rocking Yankee Statium to the rhythmic chant of "Reggie...Reggie...?....The real question is, was he anxious?....we seriously doubt that he was anxious. And we suspect that the reason he was not anxious was because he viewed the situation as an opportunity to succeed--to make sports history--rather than as a threat or a chance to fail. Jackson said as much in a Sports Illustrated article: "This is what differentiates winners from losers. Winners seize such opportunities as a chance to break into the record books. Losers, on the other hand, let such opportunities seize them."

* In order to overcome the tendency to choke, you must first recognize that anxiety is the immediate reason an athlete chokes. Anxiety is the most importan opponent you face in your effort to overcome the tendency to choke.

* It has been our experience that an inordinate number of ahletes are motivated by one stroke in particular--an excessive need for approval....this is the single most destructive need an athlete or anybody else can inordinate number of athletes are not only motivated to participate in sports but also compelled to succeed in sports because of their insatiable need for approval from both significant and not-so-significant others.

* You would be amazed by the number of athletes who think that the only way they can receive the unhealthy amount of approval they need is through winning. Likewise, you would be amazed by how much this excessive and unhealthy need for approval detracts from an athlete's chances of winning or succeeding....The more you concern yourself with what others think about you when you compete, the more you are likely to choke and lose.

* Coaches frequently are the single move important cause for an athlete developing a pattern of choking in important competitive situations..

* Young athletes may hold a coach in Godlike esteem and therefore be under extreme self-imposed pressure to try to please the coach. This self-imposed pressure creates anxiety in young athletes which, in turn, increases the likelihood of them failing to perform.

* What we wish to convey here is the idea that coaches, because of the high esteem in which they're held by their athletes, can unconsciously become one of the major conributing sources to an athlete's pattern of choking.

* The real difference between coaches is best measured by how their emotions or lack of emotions influence their players. In other words, it is the consequence of their actions rather than the actions themselves that counts most.

* There is no question that a coach, through his or her words and actions, can increase the likelihood of an athlete doing just the opposite of what the coach intends. And this happens because, whatever it is that the coach says and does, it can take the athlete's mind off the process of getting the job done. Whether or not a basketball player makes the front-end of a crucial one-and-one immediately following a timeout, for instance, frequently has nothing to do with the player's ability, but rather what the coach said or did not say to the athlete during the timeout.

* The statement "winning is not everything--it's the only thing" was first attributed to Vince Lombardi......The "Lombardi Syndrome" permeates levels of sport in which it has no business. This is because the psychological pressure it brings to bear upon children and teenagers more often than not impedes rather than facilitates their athletic development and success....The trouble with the statement is that it puts the emphasis on the word winning rather than on the process of properly executing, which is what makes winning possible.

* Realistic goals are positive influences on people...unrealistic goals, however, have a negative influence on people, and they only serve to confuse and frustrate is difficult for any athlete to come to the sometimes painful realization that a particular goal or set of goals the athlete has established does not correspond to the athlete's skill....goals athletes set should not be completely out of touch with reality....goals should be positive sources of motivation rather than negative sources of frustration.

*We would be willing to bet that if you ask 100 famous athletes what they think about when in a situation that is crucial, they probably would tell you they don't think about anything, much less think about the consequences of failing to execute.

* Human behavior is very much the product of human conviction. The quality of a person's beliefs and convictions.

* The widely shared belief among...coaches that a team should take one game at a time not only makes practical sense but also is supported by an expanding body of psychological data that suggest achievement is maximized when people approach their long-term goals incrementally.

* There are a number of widely adhered-to beliefs and convictions in the sports world that have no basis in fact. They are misconceptions and, as suchy, serve only to mislead and misguide people interested in improving their own performance or the performance of others.

* Misconception 1: Winning isn't everything--it's the only thing. Winning is the consequence of execution, and athletes who execute are destined to win...if an athlete is more concerned with the outcome of competing than the process of competing, the athlete actually will increase his or her chances of losing. When you approach an important game, do yourself a favor by thinking: Execution is not the only thing--it's everything.

* Misconception 2: You must always be perfect. No one is perfect all the time, not even Jack Nicklaus.

* Misconception 3: All Athletes can be psyched out. Although most athletes have let themselves be psyched out, most also can learn how to avoid being psyched out. You can't be psyched out unless you let your opponent psych you out. You must recognize that the unusual behavior or verbal taunts of an opponent are planned to displace your thought process, that is, planned to take your mind off your game.

* Misconception 4: All's well that's planned well. Sometimes athletes and whole teams find that their carefully planned strategy isn't worth the chalk used to diagram it. Sometimes the unpredictable, the unaccountable, just happens. All athletes should be psychologically prepared for the eventuality that their game plans won't work. They should expect the unexpected and prepare for it. By psychologically preparing themselves in this regard, they can modify their play and thereby not let a situation erode their performance.

* Misconception 5: Anything less than 110 percent effort is not good enough. Saying, "let's give 110 percent tonight" does little for the athlete. The reason it does little is because, if anything, it may cause athletes to try too hard...Overtrying is one of the most common reasons athletes choke...such statements put additional pressure on the athlete and interfere with concentration and execution....Trying too hard often causes tension in the muscles ...and the athlete's efficiency actually decreases.

* Misconception 6: Think Technique. Once the mechanics of an athlete's game have been learned, they should become reflexive and require little, if any, conscious thought at all...Technique is important. Success comes, however, when technique becomes habit.

* Misconception 7: Nothing motivates like the fear of failing. Recent studies have compared athletes who are motivated to succeed and athletes who are motivated to avoid failure. These studies clearly show that the most successful athletes are those motivated by success. Also, these studies show that athletes who are motivated by success rather than the fear of failure are less anxious. Of course, such athletes also are less prone to choke.... Interestingly enough, it is possible that, from the athlete's perspective, coaches have little to do with his or her success and a lot to do with his or her failure.

* If there was a law against people verbally abusing themselves, it's a safe bet that better than half of the people who have ever picked up a piece of equipment even remotely associated with the word sport would now be in jail.

* It is common knowledge that people talk to themselves when involved with certain tasks. We also know that what people say to themselves while they are engaged in some task actually will affect their success in completing the task. We know, for example, that athletes can increase the level of anxiety they feel by telling themselves they have to get a hit, must make a free throw, or cannot possibly fail to catch a pass....There is reason to believe that athletes who are abusively critical of themselves for a significant amount of time following some performance may actually increase the likelihood of a similar performance the very next time they compete.