The reason why top performers sometimes choke?

Very interesting article by Matthew Syed, a former Commonwealth table tennis champion. which suggests that experts (Unconsciously Competent) can suddenly flip under stress to “beginner mode” (Consciously Competent) with the accompanying degradation in their performance.


Chelsea miss penalty kick
Image: Chelsea miss penalty kick
This happens when the performer gets triggered to become hyper careful about aspects of their game which previously flowed automatically producing a totally counter-intuitive effect than intended on their performance. To unblock the problem they need to relax back into expert mode which is easier said than done!
To read The psychology of choking:
Matthew Syed is the author of Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice
See also an excellent paper How to Avoid Choking under Pressure by Elizabeth Svoboda which offers 3 practical tips:

  • We choke under pressure because such conditions thwart the normal brain processing of tasks that are so well learned they have become “automatic.”
  • Trying to concentrate on monitoring the quality of your performance is counter-productive because the cerebellum, which controls complex motor tasks, is not consciously accessible.
  • Ratcheting up the pressure at your practice sessions is the best way to avoid failing when it counts.