I hate the word Choke, but the reality is this, EVERYONE HAS CHOKED. Wait, not everyone, just those who have been successful. Jordan Spieth has won 2 majors and had yet to trail in The Masters in two years. You have to be in it to win it – No one in 35th place has ever choked.

So here’s how it happened~

Choking- Suboptimal performance given one’s skill level where incentives for optimal performance are at a maximum (Beilock & Carr, 2001).

This isn’t bad play or a slump but more of an event that takes place under high-pressure situations. Again, you have to be in it to win it.

There are a lot of theories about the anatomy of a choke. But this theory holds true time and time again.

Catastrophe Theory- All performers have an optimal range of arousal under pressure circumstances. Pressure is a privilege. When arousal gets too high, it turns into anxiety and then there can be an extreme drop-off in performance or a “catastrophe” (Hardy, 1990).

The catastrophe is caused by one error or mistake which leads to another and another, a complete drop-off, or meltdown. 

The catastrophe is what happened to Jordan Spieth.

Jordan Spieth, the defending Masters champion, made the turn at -7 at clicking on all cylinders making four straight birdies. He had a five (5) shot lead, Complete control!


Spieth bogeyed 10 as he entered Amen corner, and missed his par putt on 11. And then it happened; Catastrophe on 12.

There were tons of players this tournament that found the water on 12. However, the miss was BAD. The precision that it takes to execute under pressure at Amen corner is enough, but it also takes working memory, (the strategizing and decision making in real time). The working memory by Jordan Spieth on the Tee Box was completely occupied.

Not convinced? What followed after the tee shot in the water was unfortunately worse!  It was a bad decision that Jordan later admitted “not to use the drop zone”, but instead he dropped it in an awkward spot near 13. What followed was another ball in the water. The drop on 12.  Quadruple bogey.

All of us watching were in complete disbelief. The feeling that hit Jordan Spieth at that moment was more than likely complete numbness.  A fifteen minute span of what just happened?

(Read: What happens after the Big Loss)


He did show incredible mental toughness by bouncing back with birdies at 13 & 15 to finish second. However, the damage had already occurred. More so, only at The Masters does the defending champ (Spieth) have to put the green jacket on the winner. Can’t imagine Cam Newton handing Peyton Manning the Lombardi trophy at the Super Bowl.

Read: 3 ways to prevent the big meltdown.

 Choking is an event, not a person! Spieth does have proof that he can win majors because he has done it before. He indeed will recover from this event. But, no matter what the media pundits think or spout off, the only person that counts is the Man in the Arena. 


Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness   

prevent the big meltdown

Max Faulkner Star-Telegram

3 ways to prevent the big meltdown

I took a few steps to my right at second base to field a simple ground ball. I dropped it… Run scored, game over! 

I then proceeded to punch the brick wall of the dugout before getting on the bus, I probably broke it (my hand, not the wall), I don’t remember. All I know is that I now wouldn’t play the next game. There’s always two types of pain…

Here’s how to stop the big meltdown.

Mistakes happen, errors and failure are a painful part of the game. But, what happens next is still most important. The next play or the next day. Read our article on  What happens when we experience the BIG LOSS? 

The University of Northern Iowa suffered the worst meltdown I’ve ever seen. Up 12 points vs. Texas A & M with 44 seconds remaining to reach the sweet 16. They were a good team!!

The Texas Rangers had an epic meltdown in Game 5 of the series with 3 consecutive infield errors soon followed by a 3-run homer. I felt bad for Elvis Andrus.

The Bartman incident in 2003 with the Cubs, led to a meltdown by Alou, followed by a walk, followed by a base hit, then a crucial error by shortstop Gonzalez.

Boise State lost to Nevada in 2010, by missing a 26 yard FG in regulation, then missed a 29 FG in OT.

Meltdowns are like a huge wave crashing into the shore.  One mistake leads to another. There is a science behind the collection of mistakes. Catastrophe theory.

To prevent the big meltdown is that the one mistake and the adrenaline and anxiety tip past the point of return.

Then there becomes an extreme drop off in performance, hence, catastrophe. These meltdowns occur in bigger moments because of the importance of the situation increase, so does the overall anxiety level. Mistakes earlier in a competition can be let go of easier because there’s still a lot to be played.

Here are three ways to prevent The Big Meltdown

Use the Time-Out

Once the error happens later in the game, use the time-out! Coaches can ease the tension and uptightness by making the transition from problematic to relaxed. Rallying the troops means to assemble everyone and bring order. The time-out allows this to happen. Too often, this gets overlooked.

During the time-out, reinforce the belief and poise in the players and team. Have them own the awareness that it’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback. So what? Next play.

Remove the emotion

During stressful and emotional situations, we revert to how we trained!  If we have practiced remaining calm, breathing, refocusing, then we will implement these skills when they are needed. These skills are the best at removing the emotional situation and focusing on making the next play. Mental Toughness prevents the big meltdown. To keep your head when others are losing theirs.

Listen to the cockpit recording as Captain Sullenberger experienced the depth of emotions when his plane struck the gaggle of birds shortly after take-off in New York. He remained calm as a Hindu cow because his training allowed him to re-focus on the task at hand, successfully landing the full plane with no power in the most populated area in the entire world.

Have a Plan

Short-term, process goals create focus.

Long-range, outcome-based goals create stress.  

Prevent the big meltdown by applying this…After a mistake, using the time out, and removing the emotion: what’s our plan? Short-term goals like make a stop, get an out, knock it down, throw a good pass, aggressive serve, etc. What’s the immediate goal?

Larry Bird stealing the in-bound pass or Reggie Miller scoring 8 points in nine seconds both had an immediate focus on the goal, make a play! 


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. 


Confident people can do this

Confident people can do this skill…

A boat is off-course 99% of the time.

A sailboat finds its destination is by tacking.  A series of zigzagging maneuvers, adjusting the sail back and forth and using the wind. Adjusting is how sailboats reach their final destination.

The best view tacking as the way to sail, while the stubborn view tacking as stressful.

We have to PUKE & RALLY. 

Confidence is contagious and these people can do this skill as well. 

Last year during a tournament round of golf, I actually 3-putted three times….Yeah, brutal. Only after doing an autopsy, I realized something. I lost confidence because I lacked this skill. I never made an adjustment coming down the stretch. Confident people can do this skill!

They can make adjustments!

In the classroom, boardroom, or field of play. Those that can make adjustments will be successful. Stubborn people on the other hand make no adjustments (insert definition of insanity here) and sometimes refuse to make adjustments.

Adjustments can be physical or mental.

It may be a change in attitude or to our routine. Most importantly, however, these adjustments are usually small. The reason why adjustments are small is because…

Fundamentals Never Change!

If our foundation and process is solid, then all we need to do is make small adjustments. It may require asking outside people for their help, but the adjustment is usually small.

Confident people can make these adjustments because they believe a tweak will make them successful. On the other hand, those that struggle are firmly planted in the belief that a change won’t work. They believe they are only one mistake away from failure. (um, see my putting example from above). 

Mental Toughness is being able to deal with the struggle, setbacks, and adversity. How we make adjustments will determine our own success. 

Interestingly, Confident people can also root for others….


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. 

Athletes Need A Better Performance Routines…

Almost everything we do contains a routine… How we wake up in the morning, go to work, eat our food, and even shave.  We have become so routine that we are not even aware of it, hence routine. We implement these daily routines because they make us comfortable and allow us to tune-in our focus.

However, we do recognize when we get out of our performance routines because we begin to think more and may even become anxious or nervous.

These daily routines don’t really matter too much though unless we are OCD. Although, they make ALL the difference in our performance. Performances could go wrong and routines make us comfortable during these pressure situations. Presentations, Surgery, Try-outs, Auditions, Competitions, Sales, Golfing, Free-throws, Bowling, Darts, Race-car driving to rattle off a few.

Here’s 7 Awesome Ways to Crush Your Pre-Performance Routine

Unbelievably though, our performance routines have not become routine. We practice the skill way more than the execution of the routine. This is why under pressure, we don’t focus on the right things, become anxious, get nervous, or choke. Our performance routines have not become routine. There are a lot of variables in our performance, and since our routines are 100% under our control, the main variable is YOU! Routines need to be perfect in all areas of our performance.

Our research in Applied Sport Psychology showed that routines need to be individualized. The timing doesn’t matter much with an individual routine, what matters is the behaviors, the patterns, and how deliberate someone is. If people varied from their actions, performance would decline.

Here is a PERFECT Performance Routine by Jason Calliste of Oregon basketball. During two rounds of the NCAA tournament, he only shot 22/23 from the free-throw line…

performance routines 




Dr. Rob BellDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology coach. DRB & Associates based in Indianapolis works with athletes, coaches, and teams building their Mental Toughness.  Check out the most recent books on Mental Toughness. 

On October 25, 1986, The Boston Red Sox were up 5-3 in the 10th inning. They were 3 outs away from their first World Series since 1918. The Mets, however, rallied for 3 straight singles. The next play was a slow roller by Mookie Wilson up the first base line. It went through Bill Buckner’s legs and became known as the most costly error in all of sports.

The Hinge…

On October 9, three weeks before the costly error, Bill Buckner was giving an interview, wherein he said, “The dreams are that you’re gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate.100

American social psychologist Daniel Wegner conducted an important research study in 1987.

The researchers wanted to see how people suppressed their own thoughts. Study participants were asked to verbalize their thoughts continually for five straight minutes and to ring a bell if they thought or verbalized a “white bear.” The researcher, however, gave specific instructions before the five-minute session began: “ Try NOT to think of a white bear.”101

Wegner’s research showed that most individuals became preoccupied with trying not to think about a certain object. A meaningless object, such as a white bear, became lodged in the mind, and it would surface during moments of weakness. The real world application from this experiment is more pronounced, because we, as individuals, can become preoccupied with more significant thoughts other than a white bear. Worse is that the more we try to suppress it, it can create a rebound effect of pre-occupation.

Our minds are just like our coach. We will only remember the very last thing said by the coach. So, if the coach mistakenly walks off saying, “Don’t double fault, don’t walk him, or don’t strike out.” it is stuck in the head. Unless we can replace that thought of “don’t,” we will play trying NOT to mess up.

Our mental toughness is directly connected with our thoughts. We say what we don’t want to happen, instead of telling ourselves what we do want. We notice the danger and the bad things that can happen and become pre-occupied.

The key is to be able to replace the negative thoughts with an instructional cue or a focus on what we want to do. That’s mental toughness.

Rob Bell revised slide3Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology coach. DRB & Associates based in Indianapolis works with professional athletes & corporate athletes, coaches, and teams building their Mental Toughness.  His 2nd book is titled The Hinge: The Importance of Mental Toughness. Follow on twitter @drrobbell  or contact

Check out the new film & e-book, NO FEAR: A simple guide to mental toughness .



How An Olympic Gold Medalist And I Shared A Hinge Moment

Most of my life, I have been a sport obsessed honk, not only playing, but also following every sport, in every possible venue. 

For instance, as a kid, I used to watch EVERY SINGLE match of Wimbledon on HBO during the summer.

I always just assumed that the best win, end of story. As a kid, I had no idea that there was a mental component to winning or even playing consistent.

In 1992, my beliefs changed. 

Reebok had launched a campaign titled Dan or Dave, who is the best athlete in the world?

Who will take home the Gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics? The competition was between Dave Johnson and Dan O’Brien, two USA decathletes.

However, even before the Olympics began, during Olympic trials, Dan O’Brien was leading after the 1st day of competition and on record-setting pace.

However, during the 8th event, the pole vault, Dan O’Brien stunningly failed in three attempts, scored zero points, and drifted to last place.  He said, “it was like a dream, I wanted to turn to somebody and say, “Do something.”

Our Mess Becomes our Message…

However, he also said something I’ll never forget. During his weakest moment, he said “I pity anyone who goes against me in the next four years.” 

I was so intrigued that anything like this had happened that I began to follow his career, even cutting out the newspaper clipping from that day!!!

It was his Hinge moment because our mess becomes our message… [ I took his picture holding this framed 1992 newspaper article that hangs in my office.]

It became my Hinge moment as well, because Dan O’Brien began to see a sport psychologist to help with his mental preparation. He admitted that there were too many variables in his preparation and he needed to become more mentally tough  in specific areas.

Well, in 1996, he won the Gold medal in the Decathlon in Atlanta and set the all-time record.

I knew from that hinge moment I wanted to help athletes feel the greatest joy of performing well when it mattered the most. 

I would become a Sport Psychology coach. 

And I DID. 

I’ve been blessed to be with my athletes during the most intense times.

For more information on Dan O’Brien and his journey, check out his awesome book.

hinge moment


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens.