Archive | April, 2013

Choking Under Pressure — What Exactly Happens to Some Athletes?

22 Apr

Those of you who watched David Ferrer come agonizingly close to pulling off an upset against Andy Murray in the recent Sony Open couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind in those last few games of the tennis match.

Ferrer, arguably the 5th best player in the world, is a model of consistency on the tennis court. His speed, accuracy and heart make him a force to be reckoned with against any opponent – his inability to beat the Big Four (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) in title matches notwithstanding.

In the finals of the Sony Open, Ferrer crushed a lackluster Murray in the 1st set, 6-2. Murray found his stride in time to win the 2nd set, 6-4. Ferrer took a 6-5 lead in the 3rd set and had a golden opportunity to win it all. In fact, he had a break and match point, only to falter. Finally, in the tiebreaker, Murray decisively put him away.

blogchokingphoto3Many would call it a case of a classic “choke.” It was almost as if the reality suddenly sank in of being on the doorstep of beating one of the Big Four. We’ll never know, of course, what he really was thinking and feeling at those moments. But a subconscious fear of success could have been at work.

We’ve seen similar scenarios play out in so many close games and contests. One athlete or team thrives under pressure, while another wilts. Many of you might remember the New York Yankees leading the Boston Red Sox 3-0 in the 2004 AL Championship Series. Given that no Major League Baseball team has ever fallen to an opponent after leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, the Yankees were all but crowned as the AL champion. But Boston rallied in the final four games to win the series.

When a pattern of faltering in pressure situations occurs, the person or team develops a reputation of being a “choker.” The Buffalo Bills are a classic case, losing in four straight Super Bowl appearances (1991 to 1994). The most agonizing of those defeats came in 1991, when kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds to save the Giants’ tenuous 20-19 lead.

So, what exactly happens physically and psychologically when someone chokes?
Sharon Misasi and David Kemler, both professors of exercise science at Southern, say it has to do with psychological pressure (stress) causing feelings of insecurity, muscle tension or autonomic arousal to occur. “When a performer perceives these affects occurring, it often leads to debilitating cognitive and/or motor outcomes,” they say.

“The performer’s scope of thinking diminishes due to the brain’s defenses that push the body into fight, flight and/or play dead mode. Worry and pressure cause the performer to forget or not access the motor programs that he or she has to solve the problem.”
Interestingly, it’s not just fear of failure that can lead to choking. Fear of success is a frequent culprit, as well.

“A performer may be worried (anxiety) about what will happen if they succeed at this level. They may be thinking, ‘What if I am successful? What will be expected of me the next time? Why do I deserve to be successful?’ This form of thinking and feeling can lead to our attention being directed to non-relevant cues, such as noises in the crowd, waving of the pompoms and trash talking. In the case of tennis, the individual performer focuses on the opposing player and not the tennis ball, or in football, the kicker focuses on the linemen or the football and not the uprights.”

What can be done to overcome a choking tendency?

Misasi and Kemler offer a few suggestions:

Practice game-like situations to prepare for the increased stress level that accompanies game day. These types of drills also help increase one’s self-confidence, which is an important step toward overcoming choking.
Keep expectations realistic and put the event in perspective. While predicting knockouts and the rounds that they would occur might have worked for Muhammad Ali, it could wreak havoc with the psychology of someone prone to choking.
In the days before the event, visualize yourself performing well. Visualization has proven to be effective psychological technique for many athletes.
Work with a sports psychologist. Coaches and athletes have varying degrees of knowledge and awareness of the phenomenon of choking. But a good sports psychologist is trained in the subject and can help an athlete overcome this obstacle.

Does anyone have any other tips to prevent choking?

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Business Meals — They’re Not About the Food

9 Apr

It’s the stuff from which comedy skits are made.

You’re at a business dinner and you order something that has the potential to be especially messy. Nevertheless, you say to yourself, “What are the odds that I would actually be klutzy enough to spill the food?”

But sure enough, you end up being another victim of Murphy’s Law – the sauce spills on your dress or you dip your tie into the soup. Or even worse, you mishandle a dish or glass and the contents are suddenly all over your potential new boss, client, or someone else you are trying to impress.

blogbusinessetiquettephotoYou apologize profusely. And while the other person may be gracious (best-case scenario), the fizz for the business dinner suddenly is gone. No matter what you say or do for the rest of the evening, you know that the spilled food will be what is remembered most clearly.

That’s not to say that you can’t turn things around and create a generally favorable impression. But it sure is going to be much harder.

So, what can you do to minimize the chances of this kind of thing from happening?

Ellen Durnin, dean of the School of Business at Southern, says following proper etiquette can act as somewhat of an insurance policy toward those types of disasters. That’s not to say they still can’t happen, but it’s smart to play the odds in these settings.

“You want to create a positive impression during a business meal – whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Durnin says. “While eating is certainly part of a business meal, your primary objective is usually business-related. It is better to leave the encounter with a half empty stomach than create a half-baked impression.”

She recommends eating before the meeting so that your focus can be on the business at hand.

“If you suddenly feel famished during the business meal, remember that you can always eat until your heart’s content after the meeting, either at home or at another restaurant, Durnin says.

The dean points to several suggestions offered by many business and etiquette experts to make a good impression. They include:

• Arrive on time.
• Be prepared for the meeting or discussion.
• Demonstrate good table manners.
• If you did the inviting, be sure to offer to pay the bill.
• Don’t get distracted by your meal.
• Remember B-M-W for identifying your place setting: from left to right – bread, meal, water. (This avoids the inevitable, “is that my bread plate or yours?”)
• Avoid ordering difficult-to-eat, messy or sticky foods.
• Select a meal from the menu that is in the middle price range of options.

So, what do you do if despite your best efforts, food or drink gets splashed the way of your dinner partner?

“Your response should be quick and sincere,” Durnin says. “Do NOT attempt to wipe the offending substance from their clothes. Instead, say, ‘I apologize. Please send your dry cleaning bill to me.’”

Durnin suggests moving on with the conversation at the table. “The other person does not want to focus on their stained clothing for the rest of the meeting, but will appreciate you returning to the conversation at hand.”

She also suggests following up with a message to their office the next business day to request the bill. This shows that the offer from the previous day was not an empty gesture.

Bon appetit!

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