From the World Cup to job interviews, why choke when it matters most

thoughts53:59Failed Sweat: Why We Choke When It Matters Most

At some point during the Qatar World Cup, soccer fans around the world will be stuck with one of the most tense moments in all of sports: A player will place the ball on a white dot painted on the lawn, and try to do so. A penalty kick with a decisive match on the goal line – and maybe even the final itself.

He would stand 12 yards from the goal, aiming at an eight-yard-wide net, with very little to block, apart from the goalkeeper’s guesswork and nerve.

However, even the top professional players sometimes suffocate under the weight of that moment. Just ask England fans about the 1990 World Cup semi-final. Or ask the Italians about the final in 1994. Both watched shocking misery as their players sailed a soaring penalty shootout wide.

Sian Belloc, cognitive scientist and author Choking: What the brain’s secrets reveal about correcting it when you have toHe says these players likely fell into a common trap.

“In these high-stress situations, we worry. We worry about the situations, about their consequences, and what other people will think of us,” said Belloc, who is also president of Columbia University’s Barnard College. “And one of the ways we try to control this is we try to control what we do next.”

When we’ve mastered skills like kicking a penalty kick or playing golf, we tend not to think through every move, Belloc told CBC Radio. thoughts. But when we consciously try to control an action we’ve learned to do without thinking, things can fall apart.

“It’s weird to think that paying attention to something might hurt her. But we’ve all had that experience. Imagine if I asked you to come down the stairs and you thought on your knee. And while you’re doing that, you’d fall on your face.”

The reaction of patrons of an Italian restaurant in New York City as Italy’s Roberto Baggio missed the final penalty kick and lost the 1994 World Cup to Brazil. (Getty Images)

“paralysis by analysis”

Belloc calls this phenomenon “paralysis by analysis” – a phenomenon that can plague musicians such as Caroline Christie.

“I never had to think about how a finger moved, or the pressure of the air or anything of that, because I practiced it, and I knew it from the inside out. And by thinking I should move my little finger to the right and then down, I really missed the note.” [by] “He overthinks,” said Christie, a former flutist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Christie said that during most of Christie’s early career with the symphony, musicians were not given many tools to deal with anxiety or stage fright.

But she said her eyes opened when she invited her niece, who was studying sports psychology, to address faculty and students at McGill University, where Christie is also an associate professor. the topic? Performance under pressure.

“This is the first time I thought I wasn’t the only one who was worried about stage fright.”

Kristi went on to earn a degree in sports psychology herself, and now coaches musicians in the mental skills for performance.

How to combat choking

Experts have found several common techniques to combat choking, including breathing, meditation, and visualization.

Beyond that, when nerves flare, we can choose to interpret our heartbeat and palm sweats in a way that enhances our performance. Studies have shown that when people tell themselves they are excited and not stressed, they perform better.

And not only does choking affect athletes and musicians, but it can also rear its head in other high-pressure situations, such as job interviews or math exams. In these cases, anxiety takes up space in our working memory, which hinders performance.

“It’s very difficult to count and do multiplication when I’m worried in my head because it uses the same language and memory systems,” Belloc said.

said Noa Kageyama, a performance psychologist at the Juilliard School in New York, who also runs the blog and podcast Bulletproof Musician.

“Instead of self-observing and evaluating what is actually coming out of our instrument, it is more helpful to focus on the sound we want to come out of our instrument.”

Another key is to apply some pressure into your practice sessions, according to Beaulock—to bridge the gap between practice and the real thing.

“Exercise under pressure is one of the best ways to prepare for a stressful situation,” she said.

watch | How Ryan Reynolds Overcame Stage Fright:

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Actor Ryan Reynolds talks to CBC’s The National host Ian Hanumansing about how he overcame his stage fright with the help of his inner ego.

Performance practice makes perfect

When students walk into a small room at the Royal College of Music in London, England, they are hit by a spotlight and see the audience right in front of them – projected onto a screen.

Thanks to a performance simulator developed by Aaron Williamson and colleagues at the Center for Performance Science in London, virtual audiences are interactive, life-size, and sometimes distracting.

“They do things like cough, they sneeze, and sometimes their phones go off. And we can control all of these reactions behind the scenes while the student is on stage,” Williamson said, adding that they can also control how excited the audience is who applauds. the end.

“The aim is to develop preparation, delivery and review skills that can be systematically studied, examined and improved,” he said.

It’s about controlling your mind. It is about understanding your own mental processes.Niclas Haussler, neuroscientist

About 350 kilometers north of London, Liverpool Football Club, one of the best football teams in England, is harnessing the power of neuroscience to practice performance. The club brought in a German company called Neuro 11 to provide cutting-edge coaching for penalty kicks and other stressful situations.

Niklas Haussler, founder and CEO of the company, attends Liverpool’s training sessions. He and his teammates attach electrodes to the players’ heads, and tell them to take penalty kicks. Häusler then shows the players their brain scans, and helps them identify what is a distraction, and what mental actions help them.

“Then step by step, session by session, we improve on this. It’s about controlling your mind. It’s about understanding your mental processes,” hut He said.

Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal, left, looks on as Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, right, passes the ball during the UEFA Champions League, May 28, 2022. Robertson says after learning from a brain scan how to avoid distraction during a match, he was able to perform better on the field . (Frank Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Haussler explained that each player develops his own penalty-taking routine — some staring at the grass, others looking at the goal.

Andy Robertson of Liverpool has said he believes brain scans have helped him. Last season, Liverpool won two major tournaments on penalties.

“Before they came along, it was a fairer thing: throw the ball down, and, you know, whatever number of steps to take, or whatever you did before that,” said Robertson. “Now I just follow my routine.”

Therefore, when a player in the World Cup inevitably steps up to take the decisive penalty kick that will decide the sporting fate of his country, the outcome can depend as much on that player’s mind as on his athletic skill.

It would be a public, high-stakes example of a feature of human behavior that scientists and researchers are still learning to understand.

But that won’t make it any easier to watch.

Guests in this episode:

Sean Belloc He is a cognitive scientist and author Choking: What the brain’s secrets reveal about correcting it when you have to And the How does the body know its mind?. She was recently appointed president-elect of Dartmouth College.

Sandra Pesic She is a former Olympic and Canadian figure skating champion (with her brother Val), and is now a producer, director, and choreographer.

Caroline Christie Retired Member of the Flute Section of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. She now teaches classical flute at McGill and is also a HARP Certified Mental Skills Counselor.

Nicholas Heisler He is a neuroscientist and co-founder and CEO of German startup Neuro 11.

Noah Kageyama It is a performance psychologist. He has a blog and podcast, Bulletproof Musician.

Elizabeth Manley He was a world and Olympic silver medalist in figure skating in 1988, and is now an executive life coach.

Jennifer Monton It is the principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Aaron Williamson He is Chairman of the Center for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London.


Written and produced by IDEAS contributor Peter Brown.

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