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July 1, 2003
Choking under pressure!


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Tom's Online Tennis Lesson
Choking under pressure!

Welcome to Tom's Online Tennis Lesson, sponsored by TennisWarrior.com, "Where you can learn to think like a pro!" 

One of my students gave me an article on the left brain/right brain functions during pressure situations. Although the analogy in the article was from the world of golf the same principles would apply to any sport. Below are some of the excerpts that clearly demonstrate the mindset we have talked about many times. Some of the excerpts are followed by my comments which are marked by my name. 

The name of the article is STUDY MAY OFFER CLUES ABOUT CHOKING UNDER PRESSURE, by David Kohn of the Baltimore Sun.

ARTICLE - "It's very easy to convince yourself that you're going to miss a putt," Reeves, 44, a former club pro who is now marketing director of River Downs Golf Club in Finksburg, MD. "It's like walking in quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper you go."

Almost everyone, from Olympic athletes to public speakers, goes through the humbling experience Reeves describes: crumbling under pressure - or, as it's more brutally known, choking. 

TOM - And you thought it only happens to you! 

ARTICLE - Problems with pressure may stem from focusing too much. Some scientists now suspect that success requires concentrating less, not more. 

"Pressure prompts you to pay attention to what you're doing," says Michigan State University psychologist Sian Beilock. "For people who are highly skilled, this is a bad idea." 

TOM - This is the Relax Technique! For those of you who have not read my booklet, the Relax Technique teaches you to shift from an overthinking and racing mind to the automatic and instinctive mindset. Or from the conscious to the subconscious. This is a key element in playing any sport. In essence, you are concentrating less and letting the automatic take control. At the end of this lesson I will show you how to receive this booklet, The Relax Technique, at no cost.

ARTICLE - Walking, she says, is a good example: "If you're going down the street and I ask you to pay attention to how you're bending your knee, then you'll probably slow down, or you might stumble." 

TOM - Knees bent, racket back, weight forward, stay still, stay balanced, eyes on the ball, firm wrist, elbow in, etc., etc., etc. Now, get out there and play tennis instinctively! Somewhere you must learn to let go and just play!

ARTICLE - In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Beilock tested this hypothesis by telling a group of golfers that if they didn't make enough putts, their partners would lose prize money they had earned.

Faced with this scenario, most golfers did much worse than they had without the added pressure.

"Peer pressure is always a good stressor," Beilock says with a laugh. But one group did better - those who had undergone a previous training session where they were videotaped. Beilock's theory:

The training taught them not to pay extra attention when the stakes increased.

TOM - Under pressure you perform almost like you do not care, in the sense that you must let go and NOT fear failure. You play spontaneously, instinctively, intuitively! 

ARTICLE - Because the sport is so filled with opportunities to choke, researchers gravitate to golf as a lens into high-stakes behavior.

In one study, Mayo Clinic researcher Debbie Crews used 41 electrodes per golfer to measure brain waves, muscle tension and heart rate. To raise the stakes, each golfer received a finger prick from a needle every time they missed a putt. 

TOM - Not a bad idea. I may have to try that finger prick technique on my students. Only kidding! I'll stick with the electric shock idea! :)

ARTICLE - She found that the best putters had a distinctive brain wave pattern. In the seconds leading up to the putt, the left side of their brains - which controls logical and analytical processing - was active.

Then, just before the subject putted, the left side quieted and the right side - which controls spatial orientation, timing and balance - became more active.

"It's this beautiful balance between the two hemispheres," she says.

Chokers exhibited a different pattern - their left lobes never shut down, possibly obstructing the work of the right brain. 

TOM - Again, the racing mind that never shuts off is a disaster in sports. You must learn to switch from the left to the right brain or from the conscious to the subconscious in your match play. Instead of having electrodes hooked up to your brain or having your fingers pricked I suggest you use the Relax Technique. :) I have taught thousands of players this technique...it works! You can receive The Relax Technique booklet FREE when you order my book Special from my website. Here is a link to that Special.

Your tennis pro,

Tom Veneziano



Hi Tom,

"After reading your website, email lessons and purchasing your audio tape series, I am watching the French Open with new "eyes".....I can see the "mental" part of the game with the professionals. Thanks for sharing your knowledge."

Emily Garcia, Murphys, California

APPENDUM:  I teach a total system of thinking in regard to stroke production and mental attitude which I cannot explain in one email.  Although each lesson can stand alone you will derive tremendous physical and mental benefit by understanding the total philosophy.  These emails, my web site, books, and tapes are part of a course in tennis, not just isolated tennis tips.  They all fit together into a system.  A system that once understood can help you not only learn tennis at a faster rate, and develop mental toughness, but also give you the knowledge necessary to help guide you and your children to a better understanding of the developmental process.
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