Increasing Pressure On Young Athletes
At the amateur level, there may be more youths choking today than ever before because of the potential financial rewards if they can become a professional athlete, says Newmarket, Ontario, tennis pro Dave Cooper, who teaches players of all ages. There’s too much pressure to win, to go unrealistically for the brass ring, he said.
A lot of kids are playing to win as a relief, to keep their parents at bay, or their coaches or friends. They feel they are letting someone down if they lose, so a lot of the enjoyment has gone out of sports. Fewer amateurs would choke if they were taught to feel good about themselves, win or lose, Cooper said. Athletes sometimes have lower self-esteem if they are from a smaller town, he added. We’ll have tennis players who suddenly realize,Hey, wait a sec, I’m from Newmarket and my opponent is from Toronto. I have no business being here. Then their game falls apart and they lose.
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Cooper teaches his students to learn from their choking, to look back and see at what point of a match it happened and why it happened. They find out that they’d been playing too aggressively, or more often than not too tentatively. They were playing not to lose. Then I suggest to them the next time that situation comes up, they reverse the way they acted so that their brain learns to counteract those old feelings they had.
Younger, less emotionally mature athletes are more susceptible to choking than older athletes, said Steven Hendlin, PhD, who has a sports psychology practice in Irvine, CA, in which he helps golfers improve their game. There are only a handful of people like Carl Lewis who know how to translate the intensity of extreme performance pressure to succeed and who can use that moment to help them come through, Hendlin said. That is the difference in the emotional maturity of Lewis and (younger athletes). Lewis likes the attention of the crowd and people cheering he rides on it. But the more jacked up the feeling in (the young athletes), the easier it is for them to make a mistake.
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