Avoidance Motivation and Choking under Pressure in Soccer Penalty Shootouts

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Geir Jordet Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
University of Groningen

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Esther Hartman University of Groningen

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The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between shot valence, avoidance behavior, and performance in soccer penalty shootouts. Video analyses were conducted with all penalty shootouts ever held in the World Cup, the European Championships, and the UEFA Champions League (n = 36 shootouts, 359 kicks). Shot valence was assessed from the potential consequences of a shot outcome as follows: Shots where a goal instantly leads to victory were classified as positive valence shots and shots where a miss instantly leads to loss as negative valence shots. Avoidance behavior was defined as looking away from the goalkeeper or preparing the shot quickly (thus speeding up the wait). The results showed that avoidance behavior occurred more with negative valence shots than with positive shots and that players with negative valence shots performed worse than those with positive shots. Thus, avoidance motivation may help explain why professional athletes occasionally choke under pressure.

Jordet is with the Department of Coaching and Psychology, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, and the Center for Human Movement Sciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands. Hartman is with the Center for Human Movement Sciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.

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