In Choking/Fears/Slumps and Blocks

It was truly a HORRIFIC scene. Last week’s Elite Eight game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament between the Loiusville Cardinals and the Duke Blue Devils. With a little more than six and a half minutes to go in the first half and the game nail-bitingly close, Louisville back-up guard, Kevin Ware went flying high in front of the Louisville bench to try and block a three point attempt by Duke’s Tyler Thornton. What happened next was bizarre, totally unexpected and traumatizing for almost everyone watching.

In the landing, Ware suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia and suddenly, he was lying directly in front of his own bench, in agony, his broken bone protruding from his skin. As in any kind of trauma, the reaction of those involved was immediate. The nearly 35,000 people watching fell silent and went into shock! Some players on the Loiusville bench vomitted, while many of Ware’s teammates who had, moments before been playing with him, collapsed to the court in tears. The coach couldn’t stop himself from crying and later said that he had almost thrown up himself. And thank God the televising network had enough sense NOT to replay the trauma, over and over again the way they like to in these kinds of situations! In fact, the cameras didn’t even show it once to the viewing audience! They kept the camera off of Ware until he was covered up.

Ware’s courage and amazing composure in handling this devasting injury was impressive. He insisted on having the coach call his teammates over so he could reassure them that he was going to be fine, and that they needed to settle down and go out and win the game. We can only guess here, but his surprising calm in the face of this tragedy may have actually helped protect some of his teammates from the future effects of witnessing something so horrific!


When any of us suffers an upset, experiencing anything that is physically and/or emotionally upsetting, we instantly memorize everything about that experience, including the sights, sounds, smells, emotions, physical sensations and associated thinking. These upsets do not have to happen directly to us. Like in this situation, we can witness something horrific and be negatively affected by what we saw! Long after the incident has been consciously forgotten, we will hold that memory in our body and nervous system for years.

Additional upsetting experiences then get “stacked” upon this original upset and for years the individual may appear to be visibly unaffected. However, at some point there’s a “trigger” event. It could be another upsetting experience related to the sport or totally unrelated. it could be having to play in another big game or compete at that same venue. When this happens, the athlete begins to suddenly and inexplicably feel a sense of inner danger. In most cases, they have no clue why they’re feeling this, but the fear takes over and dramatically interferes with the athlete’s ability to perform at a high level.

This happens because the inner sense of danger automatically triggers our self-protective response. In the case of most Repetitive Sports Performance Problems, (RSPPs) this is the FREEZE RESPONSE. The self-protective reflex is always far more powerful than any trained performance skills so that when the athlete feels unsafe, the freeze response knocks the trained performance skills offline!

The sports media frequently calls this a peformance problem, the “YIPS” or a slump and makes it sound quite mysterious. But the fact is, that these kinds of fear-driven performance problems are both common and quite “fixable,” and what I see in thousands of athletes. For more information and articles on REPETITIVE SPORTS PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS, go to my website.


Start typing and press Enter to search