We can recall to when we saw a performance where an athlete or a team choked. From Greg Norman losing a 7 stroke lead in The Masters on the final day, to the Trailblazers being up 17 in the second half and losing game 7 to the Lakers, and recently – the 73-Win-Warriors losing a 3-1 series lead to the Cavaliers; it’s not just about how great the winning athlete or team plays, but how much the losing team falls apart, or better yet, chokes.

All of these victims to choking had three different, but yet equally important traits that lead them down this path. As you read this, ask yourself it these are things that you have shown when the results have not gone the way that you wanted, and if you did, let's commit to making some changes. 

Not taking responsibility for their actions

When something goes wrong, the person who chokes always blames someone else first before they take responsibility for themselves – if they ever do. Although they may have been aware of their poor performance, they take the easy road by blaming their coaches, teammates, bad weather, the crowd – you name it [just as Olympian Sydney McLaughlin did in her 400m Hurdle Prelim a few days ago – you can read about my thoughts on this HERE]. Part of being a competitor and not a choker is the ability to be honest with yourself. Coming to grips with the reality of a situation is not just vital to your own personal success, but the success of the people that are around you. By not accepting the blame after a choking, not only are they being personally irresponsible, but they break the confidence and fabric of the team apart by pointing the finger at other people first.

I have seen this first trait way too often. Not just in athletes and coaches, but in the leaders and members of businesses and organizations that I have worked with across the country. That’s why I would suggest that if you are in a leadership position and you see notice this with a teammate or a co-worker, address it quickly and in a way that is not confrontational [because the choker will blame you for their problems as soon as they get the chance, trust me] but in a way rather that gets them to compare past performances of success to ones in which they choked. It will be a good place to begin the conversation.

They Overthink

When the pressure is on and it’s time to be at their best, competitors trust their ability and their training to help increase their confidence and decrease their anxiety. This is the complete opposite of what can be said for an athlete that chokes. Part of their confidence issues arise from continually questioning what their next step is, if they are ready for the moment, what will happen if X,Y, and Z happens. Again, [and I hope that see a pattern here] they are not focusing on what they can control. When you overthink, first it removes your focus from the current task – which [obviously] is where your focus should be. Second, it over complicates the task at hand. One of the things that I tell athletes when they are overthinking is to list the most important things about that specific performance that they need to focus on. If it is pitching a baseball, it is to focus on the three mechanical skills that are important in a breaking ball, strike, slider, or what have you. There is no need to think about anything else other than how to do the skill that is right in front of you successfully. And third, overthinking is a sign of lack of confidence. If you were confident in your abilities, why would you ever complicate it by overthinking? You should know how to execute because you have prepared for it, you feel calm in the situation because you have visualized it, and you trust in your teammates and coaches to execute the game plan. A trust in one’s own abilities to get it done is a great solution to overthinking. However, don’t let that lead to being too confident, or you will become a victim to the next reason people choke.

They are Overconfident

We all have met people that are overconfident. There are several different terms that we could use to describe how they act and what their overall demeanor is, none of which are good. But when it comes to performance, being overconfident leads to a lack of preparation, a decrease in effort, and an inability to ever grasp the reality of a situation. Being overconfident does not mean that you are arrogant, it does mean however that you underestimate your opponent, which may lead to a lack of preparation and an overestimation in their own abilities. This combination is almost a sure fire recipe for disaster. A competitor [and an honest athlete and/or coach, which is the most important trait we can train to make sure someone does not become too confident] always understands that there is a chance they could lose if their effort and focus is not where it should be. They understand that they cannot control how the other team plays, but what they do know is their effort will have an effect on their opponent’s performance. Competitors understand that it is not what you do, it is how you do it.

The next time that you fail [and please understand that we ALL fail], ask yourself if you showed any of these traits. Are you blaming your poor performance or situation on someone else? Did you overthink when you should have been focusing on the task at hand? Where you overconfident and under prepared? I hope that next time you are in a situation that does not turn out the way that you wanted, you can remember these traits. Remember that a choker loses, and a winner learns.

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