Probably one of the biggest causes of choking, fear and poor performance starts pre-game when the athlete begins to listen to the “what if’s” playing in his/her head. “What if I lose?” “What if she beats me again?” “What if I fall?” “What if I get re-injured?” etc. This very common concentration mistake will tighten your muscles, steal your confidence and insure that your worst nightmares comes true.
How would you feel if you regularly played the following in your head?
As the match approached I began to think, What if I choke? What if I stink?
I could double fault or land on my head, What if we lose or my legs feel like lead?
The refs could be blind and miss every call, What if I drop, boot or bobble the ball?
The beam could be wobbly, the crowd much too big, What if I throw up or miss a key dig?
My opponent could beat me, I might just get cut, What if I get hurt or stay stuck in this rut?
The scouts are all here, I could play like a bum, What if I strike out and no glory comes?
I know I should relax and just drift off to sleep, but my “what if’s” are endless, all the ways I could weep.
That’s right! Listening to this kind of “poetry” will ultimately freak you out and get you consistently underachieving. If you want to learn to stay cool, calm and collected under pressure, then you are going to have to keep yourself away from reciting the “what if’s” in your head. This kind of future focus is what always generates performance-disrupting fear and sends our level of nervousness into the red zone.
To get a constructive handle on the “what if’s,” you must first become aware of when you’re entertaining them. That is, you have to develop an awareness of when you mentally leave the NOW and jump ahead into the future. When that happens, you want to immediately return your concentration to the task at hand in the moment. By staying mentally in the NOW, you will calm yourself down and keep your muscles loose enough so that they will work as trained whenever the pressure of competition is turned up high.
You may not be able to completely stop the “what if’s” from beginning to play in your head. That’s OK! Your job is to quickly notice those first few familiar stanzas of the “what if'” song and then, just as quickly, bring yourself back to what you’re doing in the NOW.
Remember, a future focus of concentration always feeds fear and nervousness. Discipline yourself to stay in the NOW before and during your competitions. This is the key to staying calm and composed when it counts the most.