Rodrigo Pacheco Carrillo Aalborg Sportshojskole Aalborg – Denmark 2009 Humanistic Project – Elite Badminton Coach Education Contents 1 Introduction 3 2 Description 4 Theory related to the ? Choking Phenomenon? 3 Analysis 7 Why do some athletes choke during crucial moments in important competitions? 4 Evaluation 11 How can they mentally work to avoid these situations during their games? 5 Conclusion 4 6 References 15 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 2 Introduction Nowadays not only external factors can determinate the performance of an athlete, we have noticed that many times an athlete is performing his best, but suddenly he ? freezes?. The increased stress of competitions can cause athletes to react both physically and mentally in a manner that can negatively affect their performance abilities.
They may become tense, their heart rates rise, they worry about the outcome of the competition, they find it hard to concentrate on the task in hand, in other words, they panic. In the last few years the interest in the field of Sports Psychology have been increasing notoriously; that interest have been orientated in the development of techniques that athletes can use in competitions to achieve their best performance. Athletes have been learning these techniques, i. e. know how to maintain focus, relax, motivated, controlled, confident, etc.
But even that some of the top athletes in the world had succeed in the task of learning these techniques, we still can see that in the crucial moments of a competition seems that all the learning processes are forgotten, therefore the athletes just ? freeze? or what in psychology we call, they ? choke?. In this project I’m going to explain different situations when this has happen; when some athletes have been performing in their best way, but from nowhere and without awareness that performance suddenly blocked, and they lost many points in a row or even the whole game.
To be able to make this research I have gone to an International Badminton Tournament in Stockholm-Sweden, where I have been talking to some of the top badminton players in Europe to get some feedback, to try to understand what is happening in their heads as these athletes have been telling me about if they have ever experience these situations and what they have done to fix the problem. Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 3 Description Choking has been defined as suboptimal performance under pressure circumstances despite a high degree of achievement motivation1. What causes ccomplished and experienced athletes to ? choke? under the many pressures of competition? Athletes who routinely carry out learned, automatic sensor motor skills have long been affected by the mysterious phenomenon of ? chocking?. What we can see from the outside is that some factors may affect the athlete? s performance; this could be either inner or outer factors. Some of the inner factors that could decrement the performance of the athlete are for example the importance of achieving a success, expectations of negative consequences, their anxiety of performing well in the competition, etc.
In the other hand we have to consider that external factors have a big effect on the athlete? s performance as well, some of this factors can be find from the presence of supporters in the game, rewards to be gained, home or away advantage, the magnitude of the championship, public expectations, among others. Optimal performance usually involves an unconscious execution of well trained skills; when a skilled task becomes automatic, the performance is normally efficient, reliable, inflexible and relatively effortless.
To perform well on complex tasks, athletes should focus their attention on certain aspects of their task without consciously attending to other elements that normally they execute automatically. Athletes who worry about the result of their performance logically try to do everything in their power to ensure they execute each element of their task as good as possible. But unfortunately their efforts to ensure success can incongruously cause them to fail. 2 1 2 Dohmen, Thomas J. (2006) Do professionals choke under pressure? p. 637 Wallace, H. et al. 2005) Audience support and choking under pressure: A home disadvantage? p. 432 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 4 Performance pressure and other incentives increase the athlete? s effort but at the same time damage skilled performance, this last one is the essence of choking. 3 Performance pressure often makes athletes cautious which decisions to make during the game; hence, when they focus on avoiding failure instead than achieving success the more risk of making the wrong decisions in the crucial moments of the game.
As we can see choking under pressure is an indication of what is happening in the athlete? s mind affected by the outer circumstances of the game. Among all the factors that can contribute that one competition will be more important than the other, the presence of others, including for example, opponent players, teammates, coaches, evaluators, observers, friendly or hostile supporters, silent or noisy crowds can affect individual performances in different ways4; consequently I believe that the importance of the audience and the ? ome advantage? effects on the athlete? s performance are factors worth to be mention. We recognize that the presence of an audience increases performer? s motivation; that motivation helps the athletes to perform better in circumstances when they would be lack of motivation. According to the ? social support hypothesis? ,5 performance is increase in a friendly environment; in contrast audiences can also be a source of performance pressure, the ? social pressure hypothesis? holds that spectators, even friendly ones, can influence performance.
The pressure that audiences provide may cause chocking as athletes with supportive audiences basically have more to lose than performers with unsupportive audiences. Social environment has an important impact on the performance of the athlete; in particular; players of the home team are more likely to choke, which goes against the 3 4 Wallace, H. et al. p. 432 Dohmen, Thomas J. (2006) Do professionals choke under pressure? p. 638 5 Ibid) p. 637 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 5 social support hypothesis. If the social support hypothesis were true, then we should see that home teams will have bigger advantages than the visitor teams, but after some researches we can see that the opposite is true. 7 Performance motivation and performance pressure vary according to the perceived importance of success and failure; supportive audiences magnify both, the rewards of success and the costs of failure. 8 The problem for performers with audiences support is that their motivation to achieve success may be eclipsed by the desire to avoid failure, and so, failure avoidance predicts choking under pressure. The anxiety of performing well in front of your own crowd may lead you to start thinking about things that the athlete have not been thinking before the game, issues that were not in his/her mind when they were performing their best during practice or training, and that is simply because athlete start thinking about the ? what happens if…?? 6 7 Dohmen, Thomas J. (2006) Do professionals choke under pressure? p. 639 Ibid p. 643 8 Wallace, H. et al. (2005) Audience support and choking under pressure: A home disadvantage? p. 434 9 Ibid p. 435
Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 6 Analysis I made a study focusing on elite badminton players during the Swedish International 2009 to find out how the athletes cope with the different pressures they might find during the competition. According to their experiences and feedback I have divide the athletes in three different groups. The first group mostly felt they performed worse because of the pressure they felt from his opponent. The second group blocked due to the importance of the competition they were taking part of.
The third group had a suboptimal performance related to the pressure they felt from performing in front of their own public attending to watch their games. The first group that felt the pressure from their opponents happened in two particular situations during the game; the first one was when they were in a winning position and the second one was when the game was even in the last deciding points of the game. When the athletes were in a winning position is where they mostly tend to relax and start to think that they were going to get the victory certainly.
Consequently, most of the time when their opponents started to make some rallies in a row they started to get more insecure about which strokes to perform and how to execute them; hence, they started to think too much about what to do instead of just doing it. In that moment they were thinking about the consequences of losing after being in a good leading position like they have been before, and when they started to think that way they didn’t perform the way they are use to, and most of the times they finished losing the game.
In the other hand in the even moments during the game a particular situation have happened repeatedly among the athletes, and is that in those moments were the game was tight a long rally was played, ended by them via executing an easy mistake, that particular mistake had a big influence in the upcoming rallies, where mostly they lost them. Just an easy mistake can be the turning point during the game for an athlete that is performing well, start thinking about what could have happened if they would have score that point took their attention away from the task they had in hands.
Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 7 In the second group where the athletes blocked due to the importance of the competition emerge many factors that can induce a poorer performance, external factors are the ones which have the mainly negative effects. Professional athletes practice constantly and arduously for a specific competition or tournament that they want to perform their best. The scale of this competition varies according to the athlete? s ambitions and expectations, thus for some athletes it could be a national, ontinental, world championships, or for the most qualified ones it can be the Olympic Games. All of these tournaments are important for each individual athlete, and as said before they will focus their preparation to achieve their optimal performance once they get there. According to the general plan of the athlete the competition could be years ahead. In that long journey until the competition comes numerous situations will appear in the athlete life, they will have to make the best decisions to achieve their goal.
But the athlete makes all these decisions with the ambition that the success in their goal will be the biggest reward they can achieve. In this long journey expectations will arise as well; from their family, friends, coaches, teammates, supporters, sponsors, and his country. Through this preparation an optimal sports condition is being build to face the competition, but at the same time big expectations around him have been growing as well. That is why just before performing in the competition athletes start to think about the importance of success or the consequences of a poor performance.
These thoughts overcome the positive thoughts the athlete might have had before going to the competition, which unfortunately will increase notoriously the probabilities of choking. There is one factor in badminton that I have noticed that has a big influence during the competition on the athlete? s performance, the ? draw?. The draw might lean the athlete? s attention on the future possible adversaries instead of giving the attention on the opponent that they have not played yet. This philosophy will make that when the Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? athlete comes on court for the game, he will not be focus on the present, instead he might think about how to play afterwards. The big mistake that athletes have is that they are not aware that their opponents might be training really hard as well. Unfortunately when the athlete wants to react might be too late, and the superiority of his opponent in that moment can make him vulnerable for frustration; irritation of the fear of losing the first game when he was ? suppose? to get much more further in the tournament.
The third group experienced a decrease in their performance when they had to perform in front of their own supporters at their home environment. These athletes felt a big pressure coming from the outside when they were the main center of attention during the competition. When athletes go to a foreign country to participate in a competition, they don? t pay too much attention if they are going to face unsupportive audience -as it will most likely to happen-, they feel that the spectators are not expecting much from their performance, that they don’t have to ? how? the audience that they can perform well, in fact they rather take the role of the ? under dog? ones. When it comes to perform in front of your own audience, what we know as ? home advantage? then the athletes start the care more about the expectations from their crowd instead of focusing on their own game. The effects of audience support on performance depend on the performer? s subjective perceptions of their audience, and mostly the perception of the athlete is that their supporters are expecting him to win the game.
The audience is going to give a loyal support, motivate the athlete in order to achieve a desired outcome, when at the same time the athlete will do everything they can to avoid disappointing his supporters. When the athletes start playing to not to disillusion their supporters as a replacement of focus their attention on the task of achieving success, the risk of choking is consequently higher. Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 9 Related to the ? home advantage? situation, another factor rises when the athletes is competing in his own environment, we are talking about the media.
For example when an athlete represents his country against a visitor team, the most common thing is that the media is going to be presented at the venue to cover the event; newspapers, radio, photographers, television, etc. will try to take the best angle to be as close as possible to the athlete. From the athlete? s side the feeling of being ? watch? – not only already by the audience present at the venue also for the population of the country that is watching attentively how his ? country? is being represented – will have a huge effect on their performance.
Some athletes like to be watch as they want to be liked, but for other athletes being watch is a synonymous of being pressure, and the pressure leads choking. Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 10 Evaluation From all the three different groups of athletes that took part on my studies, I have perceived that they are very professional in the way they practice, set their goals, and prioritize their decisions in order to achieve their aims; the problem comes because the athletes trained in how to play their game, but they don’t train under pressure, so they fail.
The human body is extremely bright to adapt to different conditions in order to survive. The same attitude circumstances happen in our minds, if the athlete would train in such conditions of pressure it minimizes the possibility of freezing up during the competition, the brain gradually adapts, so that circumstances that once would have made you uneasy no longer will feel new or threatening for the athlete. 10
For instance, for the first group where they find that the pressure comes from their opponent that might start to come back after having a leading situation, a technique can be used to ? get back on track? when the mind starts to think in different distractions. The use of one single-word could prevents the athlete from regressing into conscious control, but it? s still enough to activate the schematic cue to get that motor program running. 11 There are many words that can be used; it depends on the athlete to find which one will work with him more efficiently.
The problem could arise if the athlete has no conscious to do it in those moments they have to apply it, and there is where we, as coaches, have to be part of our players mind as well. As we know in a badminton game coaches are allowed to be seated on the back side of our player? s side; so the coach has the faculty of recognize when our player is starting to get into those blocking situations, and if the athlete cannot solve the problem by himself, we should take action immediately to help our player.
As coaches we should 10 11 Svoboda, Elizabeth (2009) How to Avoid Choking under Pressure. p. 03 Ibid p. 02 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 11 take part of our player? s game actively, and we could be the ones who can say that ? singleword? that will bring our player on track again. Maybe our player is not conscious what is happening around him, in that moment the coach, for instance, can clap in order to get the player? s attention and immediately say the word that they have been working with.
The best way to make a performance situation feel like rehearsal is to subject yourself to the same anxiety-packed conditions during practice that you expect to encounter during your moment in the spotlight. 12 If the athlete is going to take part in an important competition, definitely the main purpose is to get in the best physical condition possible, but as we have talked earlier, the psychology area could be the main factor between being the champion or the defeated.
In order to make an important competition likewise, we can work into a progression for it; if the competition has a big cash prize, during practices smaller prizes could be take in consideration between the teammates, so the athletes will start having the feeling of how is to play to win a reward and get used to that feeling, from experienced I have seen that even a small rewards could impair the performance of the athlete. In general most important competitions are situated at the end of a long term plan as is where we want the athlete to ? eak? ; ? smaller? competitions could be placed during the plan in order to get the athlete used to the feeling of competing, those ? smaller? competitions should have a progression of importance, so when the ? big game? will arrive the athlete will have the experience of being in a competitions situation already, since from every competition a new experience could be learn and stored in our brain, hence, is most likely he will know what to expect, what feeling will arise, and what to do if this happens on the big day.
If the problem of the athletes turns up when they have to perform in front of their audience, media, and familiar environment, there are some things that could be useful for 12 Svoboda, Elizabeth (2009) How to Avoid Choking under Pressure. p. 02 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 12 the athlete. For instance if the athlete is going to perform against a foreign opponent, what we can do is to invite another foreign player to come and join our practices in order that our athlete experience the feeling of playing against a foreign opponent.
To make this situation more complex, and to have the best outcome of the experience for the important match, when our athlete is playing against this guest we can enlist a few friends or family members to serve as an audience during the practice session. 13 The presence of others will affect the performance of the athlete in different way. It is not a request to have a guest player to be able to do this; the friends and family could come in a normal training day as well.
One last tip I would to take in consideration is that in a normal practice day a video camera can be set to record our athlete during practice, telling him that the tape will be watch, for instance by professional elite badminton players or the president of the Federation, who wants to observe the athlete how is performing. If we repeat this technique time after time our athlete will get used to the feeling having a camera in front of him, so the day when the media will be present it won? be a new sensation for him to be in that situation. The more exposure the athlete gets to these high-pressure situations, and the more they succeed (despite them), the less likely they will get that whole affective experience. In other words, the more comfortable they feel, the less probability they will choke. 14 13 14 Svoboda, Elizabeth (2009) How to Avoid Choking under Pressure. p 03 Ibid p 03 Humanistic Project | Why do athletes choke under pressure? 13 Conclusion
Choking under pressure can be a very serious problem for accomplished athletes; just one moment of this wicked phenomenon could mark a successful career. Accomplished athletes are probably more accustomed to being the centre of attention while performing and hence coping with self-focused attention, but even they may be susceptible to choking under extreme conditions, such as when playing for the championship at home. 15 Choking mostly will arise in the most important moments of the game, where the athlete requests all his well trained skills to be able to success in the task.
Unfortunately, when the athlete try to execute all the elements consciously as good as possible, the probability of choking increases, as optimal performance usually involves an unconscious mental state of performance. There are some kinds of antichoking strategies that could be implemented in order to familiarize with this phenomenon. Training under similar circumstances in the environment that the athlete will face during the competition will help the athlete to be aware on what to expect on the important competition day.
In conclusion, although we have learned about why skills may be affected in important situations, there is still much work to be done. It is my hope that this project will be helpful for athletes and coaches to have a basic idea of the chocking phenomenon and their interest to practice different methods to decrease the probabilities for it to happen. Times of pressure are a great time to shine and rise to the occasion. This is the times when champions are made. Will your athlete rise to the occasion, or stay down crushed?