Why we choke and how you can profit from it

28/10/2017 | By | Reply More

I’ve just finished reading a very good summary of the core reasons why we choke. The article is a nice clean summary and is worth a read.

Basically it comments on how information is stored in the brain and transferred from a semi autonomous region to a more thoughtful process. The semi autonomous region falls apart when it is forced to transfer back to the other part of brain. Your brain can be in the zone, then forced out of it! This can happen by accident or by your sly opponent forcing you to do it.

For what it’s worth here is my experience of this exact thing. This can teach us some critically important things. The first thing it teaches you is how a skill is learned and then becomes “natural”. It also useful to understand what’s going on inside sports persons head. Why have they lost confidence? Why can’t they play the way they were doing a short while ago? Why has this team failed? What can the manager do about it? What exactly does restoring confidence mean?

I think some of this is relevant to Chelsea at the moment. So this will tell you why they are failing and what will bring them back.

I have two stories to tell you about why we choke, both separated by a large number of years and one bit of practical experience that ended in a nice profit.

The Tennis tournament

When I was young I would play tennis doubles with a friend of mine. Individually we were not really that good, but when we played we were almost telepathic . Our incompetence within the core game was overcome by our ability to out-think our opponents. During one particularly promising spell we managed to beat a number of opponents on the way to the latter stages of the tournament. Upon reaching a critical match we both talked to each other at the start of the match about how important it was and how it was amazing we got this far and if only we could see ourselves through this match it would be an amazing result. What followed was one of the worst games of tennis we had ever played and we were mystified at how we could mess things up so much!

The Golf Tournament

Many years later I was often getting invites to play golf. The big issue was that I’d never played golf and I had no real idea about how to do it. So I leaned on a friend of mine who was a golfing fanatic to give me some lessons. I practiced very hard to become semi-competent at playing golf. My objective was to be able to step out on a championship course and not hopelessly embarrass myself. Eventually I had enough confidence in my game to actually go out and play in an organised tournament, an amateur one. What followed was one of the worst games of golf that I’ve ever played and I was mystified at how I could mess things up so much! I seemed to hit the grass more than the ball most of the time.

I recalled my tennis journey of many years earlier and how the same thing happened and, so I went to seek advice from the golf professional at a nearby club. What he did surprised me, because he didn’t talk about my game at all. He watched me swing a few balls then said there were areas to improve but talked to me about something else.

What we actually did was talk about my mind and the tricks it was playing when I was playing a round of golf. He did a couple of things to demonstrate this to me. This include getting me to think very intensely about what I was doing and on the flip-side, getting me to not think at all about what I was doing. He summarised by saying that I was over-thinking every shot when I played in that  tournament and in fact I should just go out there and enjoy it and I would play a whole lot better. He recommended that rather than thinking through each of the individual shots when I went to play them, I should just hum a tune or recite a book in my mind. Yes, look at the shot, line up the shot , look at the ball and just check that everything is all right, but don’t over-think the shot!

Does it have exactly the right lie? Is that grass in the way? Have I selected the right club? What about if I just gently pull it from left to right? Should I have taken on a different line to this point?

Pretty much all those things evacuated my head and I filled it with thoughts of “isn’t this a nice course?”, “wouldn’t it be great if I could get this to within a few yards of the hole?“, “That was a great tee shot”

The nice solid silver cup

A year after my disaster in the amateur tournament I played the same tournament again at a different course. With my new knowledge I had the round of my life (so far) and ended up winning the bloody thing! A better performance was what I was aiming for, I never expected to win it.

I guess my better performance and a bit of luck combined to produce the win, as with most things in life! The rather large silver trophy still sits proudly in my dining room and I can bore people to tears with the epic round of golf that acquired the trophy. I was going to post a picture of it, but it needs a clean! On this particular day I could do nothing wrong, nothing. It was amazing.

The simple fact was, that during the tennis tournament in the prior golf tournament, I had choked. In the latter tournament I was completely relaxed at ease with myself and let my subconscious do the hard work. I never really expected to win the tournament, that was a bonus. What I had learnt however was the art of not choking.

2013 Australian open

I have blogged about this before in sport. But there can often be key turning points in a sports, in matches and it’s most dominant in individual player sports, especially Tennis. Probably the most subtle example I can give in recent years is where a feather flipped Murray out of the zone and he couldn’t close out the final.

Often you can find opponents who will deliberately try to get you to choke, some people choke easier than others. But understanding the thing that gets you there, will help you trade that situation a lot better. Maybe it can help you also in a number of different areas. But understanding what’s going on in somebodies mind is a key trading tactic for me now.


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Category: Psychology, Trading strategies

About the Author ()

I left a good job in the consumer technology industry to go a trade on Betfair for a living way back in June 2000. I've been here ever since pushing very boundaries of what's possible on betting exchanges and loved every minute of it.

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