Posted by: Mason Nichols on March 12th, 2013The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
By: Mason Nichols
The Jazz recently choked away their 4 game road trip going 0-4. The Lakers are creeping up on them and Jazz Nation can see our team’s playoff hopes dwindling. What caused this massive choke and how can the Jazz make sure it does not happen again? To find the explanation we turn to psychology.
Choking appears to be related to attention. When a person chokes they are focusing on the wrong information. Humans only have so much attention they can use and when we focus on the wrong information, important information gets left out. Most of the time in sports choking occurs when an athlete is focused on an outcome (winning or losing) instead of the process (completing the task at hand) that they need to be going through in order to succeed.
The entire Knicks game was a choke on behalf of the Jazz. All they had to do was stay out on Novak and Smith and the game would have been entirely different. Was this because they had more attention on the outcome of moving out of playoff seeding than not leaving Novak and Smith open to hit 3 after 3? We all knew that the only way the Knicks would win was if they were left open on the perimeter, and that is exactly what happened. No attention to the correct information resulted in a blowout loss.
Two chokes lost the Cavs game for us. Mo jacking up a contested, off balance trey with 7 seconds left on the shot clock while up by four was the first. Mo had his attention focused on winning the game and being the hero instead of focusing on getting a good shot, which was the task at hand.
The second choke of the Cavs game was Gordon’s turnover with one minute left. His attention was obviously on making the shot to seal the game when he should have been focused on getting the ball to the point guard, running a set, and getting a good shot. He inattention to this caused him to try to split defenders, one of them Kyrie Irving, and force penetration. If Gordon would have been focused on the process the Jazz could have taken time off the clock and created a good look. This could have turned an L into a W.
It takes practice to focus your attention on the right information at the right time in pressure situations. I hope that the Jazz have a sport psychologist working with our young players preparing them for these high pressure situations that would cause one to choke. As soon as a player’s attention is shifted from the process it takes to win to the act of winning, the chances of them performing correctly are greatly diminished. The mental aspect of sport is as important as or even more important than the technical, tactical, and physical aspects.
I am really worried about the situation the Jazz are in, fighting with their bitter rivals the Lakers for a playoff spot. If our players can only focus on “the Lakers could knock us out of the playoffs if we lose tonight” then we are doomed. They need to calm down, take some deep breaths, and focus what they need to do at that precise moment to be successful.
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