Coaches and pundits devote countless hours determining which players are “clutch performers” and which ones choke under pressure. How can coaches help athletes make the most of their abilities?

What is Choking?

“Clutch performers” are athletes who perform at their career average under pressure. Those who perform below their average may be choking. Those who perform significantly better than their average under pressure are few and far between.

Who Chokes?

Athletes: who abandon well-honed habits or allow external factors to cloud their focus.

Coaches: who cannot think clearly or lack initiative when the chips are down.

Officials: who pass on calls or do not process all available information.

General Managers: who do not correctly evaluate talent in stressful situations and do not match their team’s needs with the available personnel.

Managing Failure

An athlete may fail a task or a goal but that person is not a failure. Coaches should focus on the performance and keep criticism professional. Athletes should repeat rational and positive self-talk in order to avoid catastrophisity.


Fear of failure is quite common. Focus on actions, not consequences. A person can control their choices and actions.

Practice Makes Perfect

Repeating a task, under pressure, prepares an athlete for competition. Athletes who were coached to improve their performance from the start do better when it is game time. In a study, athletes trained under various conditions. Those whose performance was monitored throughout did better when tested, whereas those less attuned to their results did not improve or regressed.


Normally, the realization of self is personal. Sport provides opportunities for actualization through self-extension and achievement. The existentialist doesn’t believe that a practice failure is the end of the world because he holds the event in perspective. During competition, players may over-analyze their performance because of the grandeur of the stage or the stress of socialization. Successful athletes understand that while man receives proof of who he is and affirmation on the court, it is an ongoing process. Only players can truly judge their self-actualization, not coaches, teammates, opponents, or fans.

Explicit Monitoring

Paying too much attention to a closely learned habit will impede performance. As opposed to flowing smoothly, a free throw or putting motion may become jerky and individual components carry more weight than required. A mental cue, like a key phrase or mental image may take some pressure off.


Trevor Immelman demonstrated how real life adversity can make an athlete more relaxed when it counts. Last year, the golfer battled a parasite and an invasive chest tumour. On Masters Sunday, he understood first hand that making or missing a shot was not the end of the world so he didn’t attach too much importance to the act.

Attentional Focus

Emotions are unavoidable but they can also be controlled. Actors, politicians, athletes, and many others suppress emotions or reshape responses at critical times. Those who lack the ability to control their emotions can be forced into irrational or undisciplined actions. Controlling attentional focus and emotion can improve “clutch performances.”

Little Steps

Limit explanations to the essentials and deliver complicated instructions in stages. The stress of tryouts affects the players’ memories. Furthermore, they aren’t at the college level yet and have enough trouble itemizing their social life, school, and Facebook in their heads before introducing complicated basketball stuff.

Types of Anxiety

Transient anxiety is common before competition and disappears when the performance begins. It’s usually positive and can indicate arousal and readiness.

Reactive anxiety occurs as a result of insufficient preparation and lack of skill or experience. Normally, practice repetition will eliminate the feelings experienced when encountering the opponent.

Performance anxiety can include severe physical and emotional discomfort, often triggered by fear of failure. The athlete’s ongoing casual attribution could be unfounded and generate negative perceptions. Work with the anxiety and focus on positive elements of the competition. Positive feedback from the coaching staff can also boost perceived low accomplishments.

Breathing Exercises

Reduce anxiety with regular breathing activities, either as part of a lengthy exercise beforehand or quickly during competition. Daily breathing can reduce stress and improve relaxation.

Pre & Post Competition

5 to 1 Breathing: Visualize the number 5 while taking a deep breath. Exhale completely. Repeat, visualizing the number 4, then 3, 2, and finally 1 and focusing on your relaxation.

Three Part Breathing: Picture the lungs as three different levels. Slowly fill the bottom level, then the middle, and finally the top part before exhaling.


An athlete may appear to wilt under pressure when they merely possess poor visual acuity. The player could have bad dynamic visual acuity (separate from the static type) and perform badly at high speeds. At high competition speeds, humans have difficulty maintaining visual focus because of the angular velocities required. Therefore, athletes should know how to recognize critical elements of the action. Anxious athletes blink more and this causes them to miss a tenth of a second.

Throughout the Year

Coaches should track all competitions throughout the year, whether a part-method 3-on-3 drill or a full-method scrimmage. These records allow the coach to reward success, breed team confidence, and monitor performance effective. There is a connection with those who find a way to win in practice with those who win games (teamwork, communication, determination, grit, intelligence, or a combination thereof) and a coach should know which players win games and give them more burn.

List of Resources:

  • Baron, Jonathan. Thinking and Deciding. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • Dorfman, H.A.. The Mental ABC’s of Pitching. (Lanham: Diamond Communications, 2000.)
  • Leigh, Larry. Psychology of Team Sports. (Toronto: Sport Books Publisher, 2006).
  • Slusher, Howard S.. Man, Sport, and Existence. (Philadephia: Lea & Febiger, 1967).

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