After having read this New Yorker's article I got interested about choking.
Orienteering is a sport where every step that we make should be towards the next control. In high level races I have this tendency to alter my navigation routines ending in worse-than-expected performances. Understanding it, may help me avoiding it.
Choking in sport is considered to be a sub-optimal performance under stressful conditions (Lewis & Linder, 1997) and has been defined as ‘‘the occurrence of inferior performance despite striving and incentives for superior performance’’ (Baumeister & Showers, 1986, p. 361). Many examples may be found here. Further information here.
There are 2 theories for it:
- distraction theories (Carver & Scheier, 1981), which maintain that under stressful conditions, the athlete’s attentional capacity will be overloaded by task-irrelevant stimuli such as worry and self-doubt, resulting in performance decrements (I'm one of the victims...).
- self-focus theories (Baumeister, 1984), which include the conscious processing hypothesis (Masters, 1992), and are collectively termed ‘‘explicit monitoring’’(Beilock & Carr, 2001). They state that performance deteriorates as a consequence of the athlete reinvesting explicit technical information and consciously monitoring and/or controlling a skill that normally would be performed automatically.
I found it curious that:
- Jones et al. (2007)- found that those who excel under pressure are able to maintain a balanced sport/life perspective, despite being intensely committed to their sport;
- Fletcher et al. (2006)- established that a lack of mental toughness will encourage an athlete to perceive the situational demands as beyond their capability a process reflected within choking.
- mental toughness consists of several attributes, including an unshakeable belief, an ability to remain fully focused, and a capacity to switch sport focus on and off (Jones et al.,2002, 2007)
- ‘‘these people who have perspective and say... I don’t really care, [can] shrug off things really well. I think this is a characteristic of mental toughness... and I think it’s a big thing [missing] in choking’’.
- [the choke] is extremely difficult to deal with and hence, nine times out of ten, performance will stay bad and they will be annihilated... they won’t regain performance... however, I think there are some individual differences and mental toughness issues going on, when some people can regain their performance.
- (in the photo, the greatest all-the-time choke by Novotna's wimbledon final loss after a 4-1 40-30, described here).
Apart from choking, even if I've been only training once a day this season, today I did one of the best long intervals of my life at 6x1000+600+600. Good times without suffering is a great feeling. Can't wait for competing again after this training period.