Coaches in recent years have used terms such as ‘choking’, ‘freezing’, ‘quitting’ and ‘bottling’ when it comes to failing in pressure situations. All these terms are often used to describe a person’s inability to perform at crucial moments of a game. This is often believed to occur due to the anxiety felt in a high-pressure moment. This blog will look at ‘system jamming’ and why terms such as ‘choking’ are dangerous in coaching.
Elite-Level professionals often tend to suffer most from ‘choking’ in sports. This pressure built in deciding moments of games causes a persons ability to execute skills to diminish. No matter how unfair players are then labelled as lacking ‘mental toughness’ in their respective sport. However, it is not just players labelled as mentally fragile who can fall victim to choking. Gary Anderson of the Minnesota Vikings is an example of this. In the 1998 NFC Championship game he missed a 38 yard kick to go to the Superbowl. Gary Anderson shanked the kick, his only miss of the year leading to the 15-1 Vikings to lose the game.
The term ‘choking’ has negative implications leading many fantastic performers to be labelled as ‘mentally fragile’. Athletes at the pinnacle of their sport suffer from anxiety which cannot truly be understood by people. Mental fragility is not the deciding factor with ‘choking’, A lack of mental discipline or an inability to organize one’s thoughts in a pressure situation we believe plays much more of a factor.
‘Choking’ occurs when the anxiety of a situation causes a player to unpick things which have been automatic. Skills such as golf swings or kicking require mental calmness in order to be done correctly. Once subconscious thoughts intrude the mind the player can no longer perform at the same level. Therefore ‘choking’ is not the sudden inability to perform, but an overload of information causing this ‘system jamming’ to occur and ultimately impact performance.
Elite athletes are not the only people who can suffer from ‘system jamming’. This jamming can occur at any level and is not just sports specific. At it’s root ‘system jamming’ comes as a result of a fear. A fear of failure. Nowhere does this manifest itself more than in the sporting arena. With such fine margins deciding games no other aspect of life has pressure quite like sports. And that is why we love it.
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