ATHLETES NEED TO KNOW WHEN TO DO THEIR BEST
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; anyone who has participated in sports has experienced these emotions. But in many cases we remember the hardships rather than the successes.
The error heard around the world. . .Boston first-baseman Bill Buckner’s fielding miscue against the New York Mets is said to be the main reason why the Red Sox lost the World Series in 1986. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Buckner. “To be that close to the epitome of what you play the game for, and to see it slip away the way it did.”
How about Jean Van de Velde blowing a three-shot lead entering the final hole at the 1999 British Open Golf Championship. The reason for his collapse is blamed on a combination of ill-advised shot selection and bad luck.
Many athletes do their best during practice and find that they “choke” during competition. Choking is defined as a decrease in performance due to too much perceived stress. Remember, stress lives in your mind; it isn’t the external situation that causes stress, but the way we think about the situation that creates feelings of anxiety.
If it happens to you, take heart, health information writer and researcher Elizabeth Quinn outlines some simple steps you can take to overcome “choking.”
BEFORE THE EVENT
Understand that pre-race jitters are normal and accept them.
Don’t fight the nervous energy you feel and don’t misinterpret it as fear.
Prepare mentally and physically.
Allow a few minutes to visualize yourself doing everything right.
DURING THE EVENT
Focus on the task at hand, rather than the outcome. Stay present in the moment; avoid thinking too far into the event.
Focus on your breathing and the ultimate goal.
Banish negative thoughts.
AFTER THE EVENT
Recall the things you did well.
Focus on actions, thoughts and behaviors that helped you perform.
Acknowledge, but quickly dismiss, things that hindered your performance.
Remember that “choking” can be dealt with if you’re aware of the pattern of negative thoughts that snowball before and during competition. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, acknowledge them and let them go. Focus on your breathing and play as if you’re enjoying it.
There is hope; things can turn out the way you want them to. Speed skater Dan Jansen was the heavy favorite to take home the gold in both the 500- and 1,000- meter events in 1998. On the day he was to compete in the 500, his sister died from leukemia. Less than 10 seconds into the race, he fell, slid off the track and was eliminated. Three days later, at the 1,000-meter event, he fell again. Four years later, he tried again, but it was not meant to be. Jansen entered the 1994 Games in Norway, figuring it would be his last chance for Olympic gold. Three hundred meters into the 500-meter event, Jansen lost his balance coming around a turn and dragged his hand on the ice. . .and finished in eighth place. He would have just one more shot. The 1,000 meters was his final race; Jansen crossed the finish line in 1:12.43, good not only for his first gold medal, but also for a world record.