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Sports Science/Psychology: Performance Pressure by Dr Rob Gray, The University of Birmingham

11th December 2012 @ 12:30 - 13:30

We have all heard the term “choking” before. In the sports arena we talk about “bricks” in basketball when the game winning free throw manifests itself as an air ball, or we speak of the “shanks” in football when a penalty kick sails over the bar in a shootout. In more academic domains, we refer to “cracking” in important test-taking situations when a test score is much lower than expected and results in a failing a course. But what exactly do these terms mean and, more importantly, why do less-than-optimal performances occur – especially when the incentives to perform at one’s best are at a maximum? This lecture will examine what happens when people fail under pressure from psychological, biomechanical and physiological perspectives and will consider ways that it can be prevented.


Suitable for: Year 12/Year 13

Preparation/Pre-reading: Picture it: A professional PGA golfer is on the final hole of a major tournament. All he needs to do to win the tournament is to sink a simple 5-foot putt on a flat, straight green. This is a putt he has sank so many times in practice he has lost count. This is a putt he knows, he understands, he can execute without a second thought. But, on this day, on this putt, there are other thoughts. He notices the crowd, the leader board, and thinks about how many people are counting on him to make the shot and win the tournament. He thinks about all those individuals, including himself, who expect him to finish at the top. Thus, this putt is not exactly the same as all of the simple 5- foot putts he has taken in practice. And when he steps up to the ball, performs his pre-shot routine, and executes his shot it becomes apparent how different this pressure-filled putt actually is. Our golfer does the unthinkable, the unexpected, the unwarranted given his ability – he misses the putt, he loses the tournament, he chokes under the pressure.

Most athletes and sports fans have heard the term “choking” before. “Choking” occurs when an athlete performs well below his/her normal ability because they are faced with a high pressure situation. Can you think of some famous examples of athletes “choking under pressure”? In what sporting situations does it tend to occur most frequently?


11th December 2012
12:30 - 13:30
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