Sweaty palms, a racing heart, tense muscles and a dodgy tummy – the physical effects of ‘choking’ on the big stage are real, according to Betway Insider.
Ahead of Andy Murray’s upcoming Wimbledon title defence, the leading online bookmaker has spoken with sports psychologist Roberto Forzini to analyse the science behind choking and how it can affect the world’s most talented athletes as they prepare to serve an ace at match point, slot away a winning penalty or sink a putt on the 18th green.
“It’s a thought process, “explains Forzoni – who has worked as a National Performance Psychologist for the Lawn Tennis Association with current world number one Murray – “rather than think about what you do, you think about the consequences. You look into the ‘what-if’ scenarios. What if I miss, what if I play badly.
“The best thing to do is control the controllable – too often players start focusing on the scoreboard, which makes it very difficult to make any decision. Players can’t actually control the result, they can’t control the outcome of the match.”
In his 25-year career, Forzini has also worked alongside Fabio Capello, West Ham United, the FA and a host of Olympians. He has recognised there’s a feeling that British athletes are more susceptible to choking than players from overseas. Tim Henman, for example, famously blew the chance of a place in the final after losing against wildcard Goran Ivanisevic in 2001, and the psychologist believes there’s a legitimate reason behind the nation’s mental fragility.
“With a British tennis player, it’s probably not as competitive as playing in Spain or France. That’s why a lot of them go to Spain or America to train, because they’re put into very competitive situations. They become more accustomed to accepting things can go wrong and have the ability to come up with the solutions.”
Forzini believes Murray is one player that has never suffered from choking and has overcome inexperience and injury concerns to become mentally strong in important matches.
“He was young, but very good. He took things on board very quickly and learned that when he controls his emotions on court, he generally gets better results. Something Andy used to do was self-handicapping, where he’d rub his ankle or his back. So now if he starts to rub something, he will say to himself, ‘No, I’m not going to do that – even if it’s hurting I’ll show that I’m OK.’ That in itself takes away from the choking.”
It seems that choking will always be dominant in some capacity among athletes, but Forzini is adamant that players have ways of dealing with their nerves to help them rise above the pressure. It remains to be seen which players choke on the big stage as Wimbledon gets set to serve up another year of nail biting action.