You may or may not be a golfer, but here’s an example of why what you’re about to learn in this article is important…
Just image you’re in a high-stakes golf tournament.
Make this two-foot putt and you win your first major tourney.
You walk up to the ball and you tell yourself to relax. You focus on getting your grip just right. You’re thinking about all the things your coach said. You’re thinking about your grip, your stance, and you’re worried about all the bad things that are going to happen if you miss this shot.
You’ve practiced this putt thousands of times, but now the pressure is on and everyone is watching you. You’re sweating and freezing up. You swing the club. “SMACK!”
The ball goes flying 6 feet past the hole. “Choke!”
You become a deer in the headlights when the game is on the line. It happens all the time. All those hours of practice, and you choke under the pressure.
Why does this happen and more importantly, is there anything you can do to help avoid choking when the spotlight is on you?
For many skilled athletes the movements they perform such as shooting a basketball, throwing a baseball, or swinging a golf club occur automatically without much thought.
However, when the pressure is on, many athletes are thinking too much about their movement or technique, rather than relying on the motor skill that they have developed over years of practice. This is why they mess up their performance.
Athletes generally perform better when they trust their body rather than thinking too much about their technique, or what their coaches told them to do.
Focusing or thinking too much about your technique or movement may actually be counterproductive and can interfere with motor skill performance.
So, in order to avoid choking under pressure, you need to stop focusing too much on your technique. Try to rely on the automatic movement patterns that you have practiced thousands of times.
How can you do this?
According to a few recent studies, it may be as easy as squeezing your fist.
But before we get to the fist squeezing, we need to talk a little bit about our brain.
Repetitively focusing on the symptoms of distress and on its possible causes and consequences is called rumination. This occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain.
Automatic behaviors that occur without much conscious thought occur in the right hemisphere of the brain.
The right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. Researchers in Germany theorized that squeezing a ball or clenching the left hand would activate the right hemisphere of the brain, and reduce the likelihood of the athlete’s choking under pressure.
They did three experiments with experienced soccer players, judo experts, and badminton players.
In all three experiments, which were published in Journal of Experimental Psychology, the athletes who squeezed a ball or squeezed their left hand just before their performance did just as well or better than they did in practice, as they did when under pressure. The athletes who did not squeeze their fist did not perform as well as they did in practice.
In other words, they choked.
One thing to note, according to the authors, is that they only tested right handed athletes. Relationships between different parts of the brain are not as well understood for left-handed people.
So, the next time the pressure is on, give hand squeezing a try and then let me know how it went by posting in the comment section.
Article: “Preventing Motor Skill Failure Through Hemisphere-Specific Priming: Cases From Choking Under Pressure;” Juergen Beckmann, PhD, Peter Groepel, PhD, and Felix Ehrlenspiel, PhD, Technical University of Munich; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General; online Sept. 3, 2012.