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Thoughts and attention of athletes under pressure: skill-focus or performance worries?

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Choking under pressure in sport has been explained by either explicit attention to skill execution (self-focus theories), or attention to performance worries (distraction theories). The aim of the present study was to find out which focus of attention occurs most often when expert athletes perform under pressure. Two retrospective methods were employed, namely, verbal reports and concept mapping. In the verbal reports, 70 expert athletes indicated their main focus of attention when performing under high pressure in competition. For concept mapping seven expert athletes generated statements about their focus of attention in such high-pressure situations. These statements were clustered and rated on how often they occurred and how important they were for choking. Both methods revealed that under pressure attention of expert athletes was often focused on worries and hardly ever on movement execution. Furthermore, the athletes reported that they focused attention on external factors and that they reverted to positive monitoring in an attempt to maintain performance. These results are more in line with distraction theories than self-focus theories, suggesting that attention to performance worries rather than to skill execution generally explains choking.
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Keywords: anxiety; attention; choking under pressure; concept mapping; verbal reports

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Research Institute MOVE, Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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