Don’t Choke! – Performing Under Pressure

We see it all the time; “This could win the game, the final shot. She’s at the foul line; it’s UP! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh …rolls off the rim. Noooooooooooo! The hometown crowd groans. Game over!”

We see misses or errors in every sport. In that big moment, almost every botched opportunity could be attributed to the phenomena we have all experienced. For a split second, we lose full command of our faculties. In sports, it’s called “choking.”

Did you know that actual choking occurs during this particular moment? No, not the severe choking as when a food particle gets lodged in the throat, “like an apple.” (Pardon me.) But, for just a brief moment, we stop breathing, our rhythm changes, muscles tense and sometimes our mouths dry.

The culprit is the stress induced from the intensity of the moment. Unfortunately, this choking is a natural reflexive response. An exaggeration is when we’re suddenly startled and momentarily gasp, or lose our breath.

Are chokers doomed forever? No.

There are some things that can help someone not choke in a tense moment.

1. Keep the air moving. 2. Keep the mind still. And, 3. Keep the body calm.

Singers learn that if they have an active tongue, one that isn’t tight or rigid while they sing, they will produce a sound with more resonance. The tongue, vocal cords, and breath are all connected and work together synchronically.

Try this experiment. Sit back in a comfortable chair and notice the way you are breathing. Now, relax your jaw and allow your tongue to rest naturally and lightly between your lips. Take a few relaxed breaths and observe your breathing. It’s now deeper and calmer. You are much more at ease and comfortable. (If you don’t feel this, then protrude your tongue a little further out until you feel this sensation. Some of you could almost fall asleep doing this.

Watch the tongue wagging of Michael Jordan and his greatest imitator, Kobe Bryant. You don’t have to have it flop around like that, but releasing the tongue will take your state of calmness and composure to another place.

Try this while shooting free-throws. Learn to slow and calm down your breathing. Breathe from your core.

Take a breath. Exhale. Take a second breath. On the exhale of the second, around 3/4’s of the way through the exhale – Shoot. Make it a natural extension of that breath release. Let it all flow together. Isn’t that better? Now, do this in the big game.

This same approach can apply to golf, bowling, pitching a baseball, shooting a rifling; just about every sport.

Quiet Confidence

There’s also something else you can acquire which is even more significant. You have heard of the term “quiet confidence.” What does it mean? It suggests that whether you are a male or a female, you have some cojones. Hablas Espanol? Oh, okay, I admit, this is over-simplifying it.

Here’s a story that some of you may enjoy. One beautiful day, I got a phone call. The guy wanted me to play my tenor sax with some R&B band; a guy from Los Angeles at Tramps, a club downtown. I said sure, tomorrow is a weekday, I’m available. (It was just a midweek R&B gig, so I didn’t bother googling the guy.)

The next day, I go downtown on the Number 1 train. I get out, climb to ground level, and notice hundreds if not thousands of college-aged kids They’re wearing tie-dye, backpacks, jeans, sneakers, t-shirts all mulling around, just hanging. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t know the sixties were back.”

In NYC, one sees these kinds of gatherings all the time. We live near the Beacon Theater. Every time the Dalai Lama comes to town, there’s thousands of Tibetans walking the neighborhood. It’s kinda cool; seeing hundreds of Tibetan monks in their maroon and gold robes.

Back to the story. So, I’m walking towards the club and there are hundreds of college kids along both sides of the street. I think, “Hmm. There must be some new Apple product coming out.” Security lets me in the back door of the club. Someone is waiting to escort me to a green room backstage. I briefly meet the band. Hmm. Nice guys. They apologized for having finished the sound check early, meaning: I was going to have to wait until we were all on stage before playing together. That’s OK; been there hundreds of times before.

The band is announced, the curtains drawn and suddenly, there was a deafening roar of applause and cheering! What da? IT WAS ALL THOSE KIDS FROM THE STREET! The band was called Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals.

Fortunately, Ben and the rest of the band liked my work, and I got to tour with them. Oh, I liked them, too. They are good guys.

What allowed me to play onstage regularly with complete composure? It was due to owning a “quiet confidence.” So, what is quiet confidence?

First, it springs from a state of humility. Meaning: You are not going to show the world how great you are, but will just try to be a part of what’s going on, to place yourself at or in the moment and become involved.

It’s not about getting up with fist pumps and chest pounding, or anything like that. Someone who has to do that most likely doesn’t have “quiet” confidence. It’s either a show or they’re trying to convince themselves of their Godzilla-like prowess.

Quiet confidence is acquired by having a faith in your preparation and a knowingness that by remaining calm and at peace during the performance you will have the correct frame of mind to make all the necessary split-second adjustments to ensure success. You know that you have prepared well enough and have adequate experience when: even on a bad night, it’s still a professional performance.

Okay, you’ve got that. Yes. Now you’re ready for the ultimate next step. There is something beyond quiet confidence that is even more potent. This is a good spot to end part one.

Press the green button for Part Two – Become a Force of Nature Part Two  

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James Finn

Author: James Finn

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