Epic chokes from the history of modern sports

As in the NFL, as in San Diego Chargers, as in Philip Rivers

Choke artists like Philip Rivers can reverse their performance woes with one of these doodads.
  • Choke artists like Philip Rivers can reverse their performance woes with one of these doodads.

Now we come to Preventing Motor Skill Failure Through Hemisphere-Specific Priming: Cases From Choking Under Pressure. Authored by those impetuous funsters at Faculty of Sport Science, Technische Universität München, located in München, state of Bavaria, Republic of Germany.

WAKE UP! I’m talking about choking, as in sports, as in the NFL, as in San Diego Chargers, as in Philip Rivers.

According to Bleacher Report, Philip Rivers is the biggest choker in the NFL. The article was written in September, 2015. The piece says Rivers managed 24 game-winning drives. Impressive, but he’s had many more game-winning opportunities, and only converted 20.8 percent of that total.

“On drives that began in the fourth quarter or overtime with a chance to take the lead or tie, Rivers has thrown 17 interceptions that has caused his team the game, ranking first in the NFL since 2004 in that category.”

Yes, harsh words, but instead of hurling hurtful stats at Rivers we might ask the party people at Technische Universität München for choke guidance. And we shall, but first you’ll need background on sports-choke psychology and the many wonderful employment opportunities therein.

There have been epic chokes. Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters comes to mind. He starts the final round with a six-stroke lead, ends the final round five strokes behind the winner, Nick Faldo. In between the 1st hole and the 18th, Norman’s reptilian brain decided it hates playing golf.

Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic. It’s the 1995 NBA Finals, Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic, 10.5 seconds left in Game 1. Anderson is awarded four free-throws in those 10.5 seconds. If he makes one, the game is closed out. Instead, Anderson misses four free-throws in a row. Orlando loses the game and series.

An epic choke is defined as one that lives on for the rest of the chokee’s life. You can be 85, haunting a North Dakota dive bar, drooling beer down your chin, lunching on bar pretzels, and somebody in that bar will say, “Aren’t you the guy who missed that field goal in the AFC championship game?”

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Well, yes, there are other definitions. Sian Beilock is a University of Chicago psychology professor researching “the mechanisms by which performance breaks down in high-stress or high-pressure situations.” She’s the author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Beilock is quoted in a UChicagoNews article as saying, “Choking is suboptimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right.”

The problem is thinking too much. Beilock suggests, “distracting the mind with meaningless details...or speeding up movements so the brain doesn’t have time to overthink.”

On the other hand, turn to The Journal of Neuroscience and an abstract with a 16-word title, translated for us by Carolyn Gregoire of The Huffington Post, “The Johns Hopkins study found that those who hated losing the most choked when told that they stood to win the most, while those who cared more about winning choked when they stood to lose something significant.”

I’ll get back to you on that.

There is a universe of websites, seminars, university sports psychology departments, labs, computer software, massage therapists, coaches, trainers, equipment vendors, astrologers, people who hate dogs, standing by to help you with choking. They have families and rent to pay, too.

And then there are the party people at Technische Universität München. Do you want to increase your performance? All right, squeeze a ball in your left hand before competition begins.

That’s it.

Justin D’Ancona of Philly.com translates: “In three separate studies using semi-pro soccer players, judo experts, and badminton players, those who clenched a ball in their left hand prior to activity performed better under strenuous situations than their counterparts who held a ball in their right hand.

“The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for...repetitive focus on stress...and the right hemisphere is connected to the performance of automated movements, like the ones used by athletes.

“The left hemisphere of the brain also controls the body movements of the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the body movements of the left side. So, by squeezing a ball in your left hand before competition you essentially activate the right hemisphere of the brain, making it more likely you’ll rely on the skills you’ve worked on since you were a kid.”

Interested readers and Greg Norman may purchase a Cyber Gel Stress Ball from Amazon for $1.19.

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