If playing and watching sports often results in our forgetting about “real life,” and the drama of sports is often regarded as a metaphor for “real life,” then how much can we adapt from sports success and failure to improving our daily lives?

A lot, I hope. When an athlete or team is way behind and comes back to win, what can we learn from that to help us also upgrade our own performance…in sport as well as possibly going from rags to riches? Or personal setback to major achievement?

And just as a player way ahead often blows his/her lead, what can we glean from that choking that will stop us from doing the same in our own athletic contests and also our personal quests? So we don’t go from castle to hovel, from happy marriage to divorce?

There is this sports announcer thing about momentum, more confidence, change in mood, reviving, rallying. What is it all about? What happens on a psychological level that obviously affects the physical level and then the score and final result?

I have seen recently a few sports situations that make me think about these changes for the better and worse (when one comes from way behind, someone else blows their big lead, right?).

So let’s explore this subject in a series of posts. First some Wikipedia definitions: A “choke” is a failure to perform in sport due to anxiety. This is a form of panic attack in which the athlete may literally experience breathing difficulty or otherwise lose physical composure. Successful champions do not choke, but are “clutch” players — rising to the occasion under pressure rather than collapsing.

In sports, clutch refers to competent and/or superior play during high pressure situations. Most often it is a successful action taken under high pressure during a game, usually at the end, that may result in a significant change on the game’s result. In the mainstream, performance in important situations is often attributed to some wealth or deficit of character that causes a particular outcome…

So I was watching a college squash match, and the Trinity player was behind one game to two. (A winner needs three games out of five.) He’d just been crushed in the third game 2-11. The score in the fourth game was 6-10, so it only takes one more point to 11 for Trinity to lose this individual match to Dartmouth. Although the odds of a Trinity comeback are incredibly remote, I have some faint intuition that this game is not yet over. But I don’t say anything, don’t want to jinx the outcome. I’m all for Trinity.

The score inches up to 7-10, 8-10. Now the fans sense defeat is not inevitable. The players must realize it a bit as well. 9-10, we are almost there. What is going on? Is the Trinity player gaining confidence? He must have more hope now than when it was 6-10. What about his opponent? From a sure or very likely win, enormous optimism, maybe even cockiness, he has to be worried, more fearful, tightening up on his shots.

Suddenly it is 10-10, the unimaginable has happened. It’s a new game. More tension, excitement, many minutes of back and forth. In fact there are six match points total, until Trinity’s Parth Sharma wins 16-14. What a turnaround! Now Trinity has the momentum, the greater enthusiasm; his opponent has to be debilitated and let down. Sharma wins the fifth game easily 11-3, and that individual match goes to Trinity.

How did that happen? How can we make that happen? In sports. Or off the court. People do rise to riches. They do get the girl. They do zoom from doom to boom?

Last year at the Wimbledon final, Andy Roddick wins the first set, goes to a tie break in the second set, and takes a huge 5-1 lead. Read the rest of this entry »

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