Although researchers have experimentally examined the mechanisms underlying pressure-induced forms of suboptimal performance, or “choking under pressure,” there is a lack of research exploring the personal experience of this phenomenon. In an attempt to fill this void in the literature, this study explored experienced golfers’ perceptions of the choking experience within a personal construct psychology (Kelly, 1955/1991) framework. Both male and female golfers participated in either a focus group (n = 12; all males) or one-on-one interview (n = 10; female = 7, male = 3) using experience cycle methodology (Oades & Viney, 2000) to describe their perceptions of the choking experience. Discussions were transcribed verbatim and subsequently analyzed using grounded theory analytical techniques (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Analyses revealed five central categories representing the personal experience of choking under pressure: antecedents, personal investment, choking event, consequences, and learning experiences. The findings reported here suggest that the choking phenomenon, which can involve acute or chronic bouts of suboptimal performance (relative to the performance expectations of the athlete), is a complex process involving the interplay of several cognitive, attentional, emotional, and situational factors. Implications of the findings for a construct definition of choking are discussed, and several applied considerations are offered.
Daniel F. Gucciardi, Jay-Lee Longbottom, Ben Jackson, and James A. Dimmock
Geir Jordet and Esther Hartman
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.
Denise M. Hill, Sheldon Hanton, Nic Matthews, and Scott Fleming
The study examined the effect of an evidence-based intervention on choking in golf. It is informed by the work of Hill, Hanton, Matthews and Fleming (2010a) that explored the experiences of elite golfers who either choked or excelled under pressure. The perceptions of elite golf coaches who worked with both ‘chokers’ and those who excelled, were also considered. It revealed that choking may be alleviated through the use of process goals, cognitive restructuring, imagery, simulated training and a pre/postshot routine. The present study incorporated each strategy into an intervention that was introduced to two professional golfers (aged 22) who choked under pressure regularly. Through an action research framework the impact of the intervention was evaluated over a ten month period via qualitative methods. The results indicated the intervention alleviated the participants’ choking episodes and so provides information that can be of use to practitioners working with golfers who choke.
Yannick A. Balk, Marieke A. Adriaanse, Denise T.D. de Ridder, and Catharine Evers
Performing under high pressure is an emotional experience. Hence, the use of emotion regulation strategies may prove to be highly effective in preventing choking under pressure. Using a golf putting task, we investigated the role of arousal on declined sport performance under pressure (pilot study) and the effectiveness of emotion regulation strategies in alleviating choking under pressure (main study). The pilot study showed that pressure resulted in decreased performance and this effect was partially mediated by increased arousal. The main study, a field study, showed that whereas the choking effect was observed in the control condition, reappraisal and, particularly, distraction were effective emotion regulation strategies in helping people to cope instead of choke under pressure. These findings suggest that interventions that aim to prevent choking under pressure could benefit from including emotion regulation strategies.
Jenna Hussey, Robert Weinberg, and Arash Assar
in skill execution and performance when self-expected standards are normally achievable, which is the result of increased anxiety under perceived pressure” (p. 273). As I continued to explore different explanations and theories on what causes choking under pressure, I found a shared consensus that
Denise M. Hill, Nic Matthews, and Ruth Senior
This study used qualitative methods to explore the stressors, appraisal mechanism, emotional response, and effective/ineffective coping strategies experienced by elite rugby union referees during pressurized performances. Participants included seven male rugby union referees from the United Kingdom (Mage = 27.85, SD = 4.56) who had been officiating as full-time professionals for between 1 and 16 years (M = 4.85, SD = 5.42). Data revealed that the referees encountered a number of stressors, which were appraised initially as a ‘threat’, and elicited negatively-toned emotions. The referees were able to maintain performance standards under pressure by adopting proactive, problem- and emotion-focused coping strategies which managed effectively the stressors and their emotions. However, the use of avoidance-coping, reactive control, and informal impression management were perceived as ineffective coping strategies, and associated with poor performance and choking. Recommendations are offered to inform the psychological skills training of rugby union referees.
Sian L. Beilock and Allen R. McConnell
Stereotype threat occurs when knowledge of a negative stereotype about a social group leads to less-than-optimal performance by members of that group. Although the stereotype threat phenomenon has been extensively studied in academic and cognitively-based tasks, it has received little attention in sport. This article reviews the existent literature on stereotype threat and discusses its implications for sports performance. The causal mechanisms of stereotype threat in sport are examined, followed by a discussion of why the cognitive processes thought to govern negative stereotype-induced performance decrements in academic and cognitively based tasks (e.g., GRE or SAT tests) may not unequivocally extend to sport skills. Finally, factors that should moderate the impact of stereotype threat in sport are outlined. Because stereotype threat has important consequences for athletics (e.g., impairing athletic performance, maintaining the underrepresentation of minority athletes in certain sports), it is a phenomenon that deserves greater attention in sport and exercise psychology research.
Babett H. Lobinger, Martin K. Klämpfl, and Eckart Altenmüller
Paradoxical performance can be described simply as a sudden decrease in a top athlete’s performance despite the athlete’s having striven for superior performance, such as the lost-skill syndrome in trampolining or “the yips” in golf. There is a growing amount of research on these phenomena, which resemble movement disorders. What appears to be missing, however, is a clear phenomenology of the affected movement characteristics leading to a classification of the underlying cause. This understanding may enable specific diagnostic methods and appropriate interventions. We first review the different phenomena, providing an overview of their characteristics and their occurrence in sports and describing the affected sports and movements. We then analyze explanations for the yips, the most prominent phenomenon, and review the methodological approaches for diagnosing and treating it. Finally, we present and elaborate an action theoretical approach for diagnosing paradoxical performance and applying appropriate interventions.
Anne Krendl, Izzy Gainsburg, and Nalini Ambady
Although the effects of negative stereotypes and observer pressure on athletic performance have been well researched, the effects of positive stereotypes on performance, particularly in the presence of observers, is not known. In the current study, White males watched a video either depicting Whites basketball players as the best free throwers in the NBA (positive stereotype), Black basketball players as the best free throwers in the NBA (negative stereotype), or a neutral sports video (control). Participants then shot a set of free throws, during which half the participants were also videotaped (observer condition), whereas the other half were not (no observer condition). Results demonstrated that positive stereotypes improved free throw performance, but only in the no observer condition. Interestingly, observer pressure interacted with the positive stereotype to lead to performance decrements. In the negative stereotype condition, performance decrements were observed both in the observer and no observer conditions.
Katharina Geukes, Christopher Mesagno, Stephanie J. Hanrahan, and Michael Kellmann
Trait activation theorists suggest that situational demands activate traits in (pressure) situations. In a comparison of situational demands of private (monetary incentive, cover story), mixed (monetary incentive, small audience), and public (large audience, video taping) high-pressure situations, we hypothesized that situational demands of private and mixed high-pressure conditions would activate self-focus traits and those of a public high-pressure condition would activate self-presentation traits. Female handball players (N = 120) completed personality questionnaires and then performed a throwing task in a low-pressure condition and one of three high-pressure conditions (n = 40). Increased anxiety levels from low to high pressure indicated successful pressure manipulations. A self-focus trait negatively predicted performance in private and mixed high-pressure conditions, and self-presentation traits positively predicted performance in the public high-pressure condition. Thus, pressure situations differed in their trait-activating situational demands. Experimental research investigating the trait–performance relationship should therefore use simulations of real competitions over laboratory-based scenarios.