Now I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but when I was in high school I was a basketball player. Actually, in all modesty, I was an awesome basketball player, like "bad to the bone" even. At 5'6" and 137 pounds, I was the white version of Spud Webb before there was a Spud Webb. I had exceptional ball control skills with either hand, a deadly Jump shot from 20 feet, and yes, I could dunk... with either hand. I spent the majority of my youth working on honing these skills. Basketball was Just about my entire fife. During my senior year in high school, I averaged 23 points, 11 assists, 7 steals, and 7 rebounds per game. That same year, in a summer league which featured a majority of college players, I averaged 47.6 points a game. Like I said, I could play ... and l knew it!
After I graduated from high school, I chose Georgia Southern College in Statesboro, Georgia, as my next step to showcase my basketball skills. I picked up at Georgia where I left off in high school. That's right, I was AWESOME! In fact, by the time the season opener rolled around I had been elevated to the varsity team, becoming the only freshman to play on the varsity team.
It was that opening game of my freshman year at Southern that significantly changed my life. The single event in my life that was responsible for me becoming a world class athlete and in turn helping others to do the same. I remember it vividly.
I was in the locker room getting ready with the rest of the team. I was really psyched. In fact, I don't ever remember being as emotionally charged for a game as I was then. I remember thinking that If I got into the game there was absolutely no way that anyone was going to stop me. During my career I was always confident but this was different. I wasn't confident, I was convinced. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long.
When we went out on the court for our warm-ups, I almost had a heart attack. There must have been over five thousand spectators in the stands. Never in my life had I played before that many people. In high school, the most people I ever remember playing before was about five hundred, and most of those people were my friends. All of a sudden It seemed as if everything was closing in on me. My heart started pounding like a jackhammer and I was having trouble breathing normally. Worse yet, my muscles felt tight and tense, and It suddenly seemed as if all my energy was drained from my body.
During my warm-ups, about the best you could say was that I functioned like a motor moron. I threw several passes away and I couldn't even make a simple lay-up. I must have looked like a guy who had just seen a basketball for the first time. It was the first time in my iife that I felt the paralyzing effects of fear and anxiety. It was a frightening experience! I was being robbed of the grace and skill that I had worked so hard to develop, and there was nothing I could do to overcome this emotion that was destroying me. In all honesty, I couldn't wait until the game started so I could take a position on the bench. There I figured I would be able to regain my composure. When the game started, I took a position at the end of the bench where I felt somewhat more secure, but I was still a far cry from confident and relaxed.
In the first half, our team swarmed all over the opposition. It was a good six minutes into the game before they made their first goal, and by the time the half rolled around, we had opened a comfortable 23 point lead. In the second half we were just as dominant. At one time we had as much as a 30 point lead. Not surprisingly, Coach Radovich started substituting freely. I hate to admit this, but I didn't want to get in that game... I was that scared. Then, with about three minutes left in the game, I heard my name as if called from afar, B-l-A-S-I-O-T-T-0! Once again anxiety seized me. By the time I walked from the bench over to Coach Radovich, I was shaking like a leaf. "Biaslotto, I want you to get in there and get tenacious." I was so nervous I almost asked him what number "tenacious" was. After I gained my composure as best I could, I slipped off my warm-ups and ran onto the court. When I reached mid-court the noise from the crowd seemed deafening. I could not believe thc reception I was getting. The entire place was going crazy. I figured it was because I was a freshman playing in a varsity game. I must have stood there for a good ten seconds before I realized that something was wrong. It was about this time that one of my teammates informed me that I didn't have my pants on. To my complete horror, I had sllpped off my basketball shorts along with my warm-ups There I stood in front of God and five thousand screaming fans In sneakers, socks, and jock. When I returned to the bench to get my pants, Coach Radovich was rolling on the floor with laughter. "Biasiotto," he said. "You're showing your ass again. "
I had committed the ultimate "CHOKE."
Of course, I'm not the only athlete and/or individual who has experienced the terror of choking under pressure. I'm just the only one who has pulled his pants off while encountering it.
Most athletes who have stepped in the competitive arena know the awful symptoms of a choke-in-progress: increased heart rate, queasy stomach, rapid shallow breathing, muscle tie-up, visual impairment, and a head full of dubious thoughts. With all of that going on It's a wonder anyone could walk and talk, let alone compete. Actually, many people can't walk or talk when they are on the verge on choking. It doesn't have to be that way though. The fact is, choking isn't some immutable trait we are born with. It is a learned phenomenon that can be controlled.
Here are a few tips that will help you do just that:
1. Put things in Perspective.
Here is a news flash - there are more important things in life than pulling a big deadlift or winning a gold medal. Sports are fun, exciting and challenging, but they are just games, nothing more, nothing less. From the start, put sports into perspective and you'll enjoy them more. Work hard, compete hard, but don't worry about winning or losing. More importantly, concentrate on the experience of competing, and what you can learn from It. If you do your best, if you give the most you have to give, I promise you that you'll be satisfied and happy. The next time you're in competition and things are really nerve racking, ask yourself the question "Will any of this really matter a year from now?" Most likely it won't.
2. Don't be afraid to make a mistake.
No one is successful all the time. Even Michael Jordan missed the last second shot now and then. Actually, he missed it more often than you may think - about 50 percent of the time. When it came to crunch time, though Jordan still wanted the ball. His shooting percentage when the game was on the line didn't bother him, because he knew that hit or miss there were plenty more shots to take. That's the best lesson to learn - no matter what happens there is always another day.
3. Be prepared.
When preparing for competition, give it everything you have. The secret is to be overly prepared. Evander Holyfield has a wonderful philosophy about preparation. When he was to fight Mike Tyson for the first time he was asked by a sports reporter if he was nervous or scared. Holyfield said "I never get nervous when I'm in the ring, because I'm always prepared physically ard mentally when I get there. I do everything I can in training. I work as hard as I can. When it comes time to fight, I know I've done my very best. When you have done your very best there is no reason to be nervous. Generally, the guys who get nervous are the guys who aren't prepared. I'm always prepared. And if I lose, I can live with it, because I gave it everything I could.. Without a doubt, confidence that comes from preparatton is the "real deal". It isn't so much the physical strength you're developing (of course, that's important too) so much as the act of getting ready and the knowledge that you have put in the time preparing. By the time you walk on the lifting platform you have to feel that you are the best you can possible be. Then, let the rest take care of itself.
4. Focus on the moment.
One of the best ways to choke is to think about how important the contest is that you are competing in. Such thinking will typically generate additional physical and emotional stress that interferes with performance. When competing, focus on the task at hand. Don't worry about the outcome of the contest or what can be won or lost. For example, you might want to focus on some technical aspect of your lift or the muscles that you're using to make the lift. When the mind is totally focused, all doubt is pushed aside. In short, your body will cease to experience a body that is inhibited by the distractions of your mind. Over time you will learn that if you maintain this type of focus, the outcome of the event will take care of itself.
5. Develop a consistent behavioral pattern.
As previously mentioned, the response of fear is generally associated with cognitive involvement. Usually, it's your thoughts that bring about the physiological symptoms associated with fear and/or choking. By keeping the mind occupied, thoughts that evoke fear are less likely to emerge. Consequently, by creating a behavior pattern that is incompatible with your pensiveness and fear, cognitive involvement can be decreased. For example, before every lift you attempt, go through the same ritual - chalk your hands, take two deep breaths, visualize your lift, take two more deep breaths, grab the bar, and then attempt the lift. Each behavior should follow the next without interruption so that you would only have time to focus on the behavior that you are engaging in. By becoming more systematic about your lifting, you will decrease negative thinking and thereby decrease your chance of choking.
6. Look at the worst case scenario.
Sometimes in life we simply screw up. When that happens and you're going down in flames, ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen. Usually, it is something that we can live with. In fact, most of the time we exaggerate the importance of en event. In the grand scbeme of life, winning or losing an athletic event has little significance. If its not your wife and it's not your life - don't worry about it.
7. Look for the silver lining in each situation.
When I inadvertently pulled my pants off in my college basketball debut I thought I would never recover from that plight. At the time I was only sixteen years old - just a baby. I thought my whole life was over. I wanted to transfer schools, but my father wouldn't let me. I wanted to kill myself, but he wouldn't let me do that either. It was a nightmare, but there was a light in that darkness - as there always is. You see, the experience made me realize that if I wasn't able to control my emotions, I'd never be a good athlete. Consequently, I spent a good portion of my college career investigating techniques to enhance human and/or athletic performance. There is no question in my mind that the knowledge I acquired during that time was directly responsible for the majority of what I have accomplished today. In other words, what was my worst nightmare turned out to be a blessing. There is always good in every situation, no matter how bad it seems. You just have to look for it. No matter how dark the cloud there is always a silver lining - just look - it's there.
Yours in strength,