Performing in the clutch: Prior exposure to pressure reduces choking in sports


In sports, athletes are often susceptible to performance decrements when placed in high-pressure situations—a phenomenon known as "choking." In the current study, we sought to determine if the mindset participants are in affects their athletic performance in these situations. Using a simulated golf task, we examined the impact of prior exposure to differing levels of pressure on later performance in a high-pressure situation. Participants first completed a round of five putts under low (n = 39), moderate (n = 38), or high (n = 42) pressure. The mean likelihood for participants to successfully make a given shot on these five putts was not significantly different between groups (Mlow = 34.36±25.53, Mmod = 33.16±26.41, Mhigh = 37.14±25.21). Following a short break, participants completed a single putt under high pressure as a simulation of the clutch situations that commonly result in choking. A binary logistic regression revealed that participants who completed the initial round of putting under high pressure performed significantly better on the ensuing high-pressure shot than participants who had prior experience under low pressure (ß = 1.163; p = 0.031). The results of this study seem to support the notion that being in a high-pressure mindset or "psychologically warmed-up" to pressure results in stronger athletic performances in subsequent high-pressure situations than when athletes are previously in a low-pressure mindset and "thrown into the fire."

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Dr. Karen Buro of Grant MacEwan University for her aid with the statistical analysis of this project.