There’s another possible downside to self-control often seen in sports when athletes become so self-focused under pressure that they stiffen up and “choke.” Although many athletes rise to the occasion, the pages of sports history are filled with stories of basketball players who lose their shooting touch in the final minute of a championship game, of golfers who cannot sink a routine putt to win a tournament, and of tennis players who suddenly lose their serve, double- faulting when it matters most.
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“Choking” seems to be a paradoxical type of failure caused by trying too hard and thinking too much. When you learn a new motor activity like how to throw a curveball or land a jump, you must think through the mechanics in a slow and cautious manner. As you get better, however, your movements become automatic so that you do not have to think about timing, breathing, the position of your head and limbs, or the distribution of your weight. You relax and just do it. Unless trained to perform while self- focused, athletes under pressure often try their hardest not to fail, become self- conscious, and think too much—all of which disrupts the fluid and natural flow of their performance.