Choking in Sports
13 December 2011
In 2007, Reeves, Tenenbaum, and Lidor conducted research in order to study what causes talented athletes to often fail to perform to the best of their abilities when placed under stressful situations. The purpose of the study was to discover whether athletes who participate in self-consciousness training adapt to pressure situations better than players who do not. To measure this, the researchers examined “choking” during kicking a soccer ball with participants of two different skill levels, low-skill and high-skill. The participants had to complete two different tasks, kicking a soccer penalty and a breakaway. They were placed under two pressure situations, both low and high, and the experimenters also had three different training conditions – single task, dual task, and self-consciousness.
The high-skill players were members of a NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer team at a southeastern, United States university with at least ten years playing experience. There were 18 participants in the high-skill group ranging from 18 to 22 years of age. The low-skill players were junior varsity girl soccer players from two southeastern high schools. There were 19 participants in this group, ranging from age 14 to age 16. All of these participants were randomly assigned to one of the three training conditions.
On the first day of the experiment, participants were told the purpose of the study and were asked to fill out performance information sheets as well as sign informed consents. Participants then warmed up and began performing the simple task of penalty kicks under low-pressure conditions. Before each kick, participants filled out the part of the psychological grid for that kick, and then performed the task. On the second day, the participants were split into two teams and told they would be competing for a prize. They were told that their competition would be videotaped and that a sports psychologist would evaluate their mental performance in front of the goal. The psychological grid was again filled out before each penalty kick. On the third day, the participants completed the complex task (breakaways) under low pressure conditions. On the fourth day, participants were told that the competition involving penalty kicks was unfair and that the competition needed to be replayed but with breakaways.
The researchers found that choking occurred in the simple task of penalty kicks, but not in the more difficult task of breakaways. Also, the single-task and dual-task treatments experienced a decrease in performance under high-pressure situations. Meanwhile, participants who underwent self-consciousness training improved their performance under high-pressure situations. Reeves et al. used a repeated measure ANOVA with skill level and treatment as between-subjects factors and pressure condition and task complexity as within-subjects repeated measures on perceived pressure. This ANOVA was used to check for the effect of pressure on the participants, and a significant effect was found (F (1,31) = 32.32, p < .001). Repeated measures ANOVAs were also used to assess performance and perceived performance during the shooting tasks. There was a significant interaction of task difficulty and pressure condition on performance such that participants performed the simple task better under low-pressure (M = 12.63, SD = 3.35) than under high pressure (M = 11.17, SD = 3.24). However, they also found that the more difficult task was performed equally well under low- (M = 11.08, SD = 2.64) and high-pressure (M = 11.25, SD = 2.90) conditions. A significant interaction was also found between pressure condition and treatment as they affect performance. Participants in the dual-task treatment suffered decreases in performance when shifting from low- to high-pressure situations, whereas participants in the self-consciousness treatment group increased performance. The single-task...
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