| By Joel Ross

I was watching NOVA on Channel 13 last night. It was about the brain. The speaker was describing how when she was young, she had a chance to make the U.S. Olympic soccer team as a goalie. On the day she was being scouted, she said that she "choked" and let an easy shot pass under her arm for a goal. She didn't make the team. After that, she dropped out of soccer.

As an adult, she does cognitive research on the brain. Her "choking" experience while playing goalie compelled her to research the subject of "choking."

She just concluded an experiment where students were given school exams, something similar to an SAT, and were put under a lot of pressure while taking the exam, i.e. the students were told that the exam was important for their future; the students were videotaped at close range by obtrusive cameras, etc.

Half of the students were told to write their thoughts, fears, anxieties, etc. about taking the exam in a journal before they took the exam. This group fared much better.

Brain activity in each of the students was recorded during the exam. The students who did not write out their thoughts, fears, etc. had much greater brain interaction between the emotional centers of the brain and the cognitive sectors of the brain during the test. The students who wrote out their thoughts beforehand had much less interaction between these brain sectors during the exam.

It was concluded that writing out the fears, anxieties, etc. beforehand helped the brain to relax before the exam. The students who did not write out their thoughts were impaired during the exam by excessive brain interaction between emotional and cognitive parts of the brain.

In tennis, we have all experienced "choking." We have talked about "Inner Game" principles in tennis to combat "choking." The most prevalent application being to "concentrate on your breathing" between points to give the emotional sector of the brain a rest.

The method described above, writing your thoughts, fears and anxieties in a journal before the "big match" or "big event" seem like another effective approach to help minimize "choking."

I am going to try it the next time I am anxious about a tennis match or any other big event that is making me anxious and will report my findings.