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CHOKE: An Athlete's Worst Fear

When Competition Gets The Best of You

In every sport the term "choke" comes up sooner or later. To choke refers to the competitor who is well prepared for competition but manages to get in his or her own way resulting in their own demise. This happens to people in all levels of skill. The golfer, tennis player, runner, and swimmer can all relate to a "blown performance."

Why do people call this “Choke?"

The uncontrolled physiological reaction to pressure manifests first in the neck and strongly resembles a constrictive choking action. Understanding the "startle response pattern" will help you realize the origins of why it is called choke.

The Startle Response Pattern and Competition

The startle response pattern begins in the nervous system with how people respond to challenging, stressful, or exciting stimuli such as competition. The nervous system is constantly connected to the physical functioning of the rest of the body through kinesthetic awareness that both receives information about movement, balance and muscle tone as well as sends messages to affect such functioning.

This determines the quality of functioning throughout the body including muscular tension, respiration, circulation and general coordination.

The physical manifestation of the startle response begins with the deep muscles at the base of the skull and neck tightening as a reaction to the excitement of the competition. This immediately affects major postural reflexes.

Two Muscle Groups Affected By "Choke"

The deep neck muscles possess an extremely high concentration of nerve endings. These nerve endings detect muscle tone, movement and where you are in space. When they detect tension, the nervous system immediately broadcasts tension to the rest of the neck muscles and body.

If these muscles tighten, then so does the rest of the body consequently disrupting ideal tone throughout. This begins the body compensating for the disturbance. Compensation comes in the form of muscles tightening and disrupting the ease and mobility of joints throughout. These joints must tighten to hold us up when we are not completely in balance. This disruption prevents them from performing how they have been trained to for the given sport.

This disruption of muscle tone and balance results in a constriction of the neck that often resembles a self imposed choking. And in fact, the air passages are restricted as well as the rest of the respiratory system making breathing much more difficult. Along with this, the muscles are put in a state of tension that is completely out of character with peak performance and in fact takes an athlete in the opposite direction - CHOKE.

What can you do to build your ability to avoid choke? There is the specific skill of the nervous system that you can develop and improve called inhibition.

Alexander Technique: To Inhibit is to Withhold Response

As an Alexander Technique teacher, I help people to become fluent in their ability to inhibit this startle pattern beginning in the neck. Inhibition is a powerful tool to have command of for achieving peak performance. Alexander Technique offers the most comprehensive approach to mastering this tool. Learning the skill of inhibition is key to stopping the fundamental cause of underperforming.

Trying to figure this out by yourself can be long and arduous, but it can be expedited greatly with my guidance.

Learn more about the Alexander Technique and your athletic performance.


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