Choking in sports: a literature review

Por: Doganis George e Maria Pavlidou.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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We are leaving in a century where sports blossom day by day and mediocrity can’t be allowed. That is the main reason that researchers are being called to investigate and research the subject of choking. The word choking has its roots in a Greek word, which means the narrowing of the esophagus. Such narrowing causes all sorts of physiological changes to the athlete’s body [1]. Most researchers have trouble defining choking but they all agree it hurts performance [2].

Theoretical Models

There are probably two kinds of causes responsible for choking. The stable causes which include self awareness and trait anxiety and the unstable ones which include possible rewards or punishments, the effect of audience and fans, the competition itself, and finally the athlete or peer’s expectations [3]. Besides, there are a few theories, which can help in the understanding of choking and can also explain why choking occurs. These theories include arousal-performance theories, the inverted-U hypothesis, the catastrophe model, and some attention theories.


It has been shown the choking isn’t caused because athletes don’t try hard but because they try too much. In their attempt to be perfect their attention shifts from outward to inward, something that eventually causes technical problems and is responsible for the breakdown of the automaticity of the movements [4]. The effect of audience and fans has been investigated as well, but the results aren’t constant among researchers since some of them support that audience has an effect, positive or negative, on the athlete and some others found no relationship between these two groups. Finally, performance under pressure has been examined and it has been proven that choking does appear under stressful situations [5].


The present study provides an exhaustive review of literature in choking. Its purpose is to indicate the importance of the matter and the need for further, more in depth investigation. Choking is an experience that doesn’t happen everyday because if it did then the athletic careers would have been much shorter. Choking is also common among people other than athletes, which means that a possible solution can be beneficial for everyone. As a conclusion, further understanding and investigation of the problem is needed.


[1]. Clarkson M. (1999). Competitive Fire. Campaign, IL, Human Kinetics.
[2]. Weinberg R. S. & Gould D. (2000). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Campaign, IL, Human Kinetics.
[3]. Wang J. (2002). Developing and Testing an Integrated Model of Choking in Sport. Dissertation,
[4]. Beilock S. L. & Carr T. H. (2001). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 701-725.
[5]. Strauss B. (2002). International Journal of Sport Psychology, 19, 11019-1033.






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