Stop Choking Under Pressure: 10-Minute Crash Course for Golfers

Understanding the Causes of Performance Breakdowns and How to Overcome Them

What is a performance breakdown?

[When] heightened levels of perceived pressure and where incentives for optimal performance are at a maximum lead to acute or chronic forms of suboptimal performance or performing more poorly than expected given one’s skill level and self-set performance expectations.

Types of Attentional Focus

Attentional focus refers to the location to which a performer pays attention while performing a certain movement.

There are three types of foci: internal, external, and holistic.

Internal focus: Directing attention to something inside the body

External focus: Directing attention to something outside of the body

Holistic focus: Directing attention to the overall "feel" of the movement

Focus of Attention Examples

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What causes a performance breakdown?

There are two primary causes:

  1. Explicit Monitoring Hypothesis

Performance pressure increases the amount of internal focus on the step-by-step processes of skill execution. This results in the deautomatization of high-level performance.

  1. Constrained Action Hypothesis

An external focus of attention promotes greater automaticity in movement control while an internal focus of attention constrains the neuromuscular system. This inadvertently disrupts the body’s automatic movement control processes.

Novice vs Expert

…novices have been shown to perform better when focusing internally on skill execution, whereas experts…perform better when focusing externally on the effects of their movements on the environment.

Practical Solutions

To combat potential performance breakdowns, here are three practical solutions:

  1. External & Holistic Focus: Use an external or holistic focus of attention when on the golf course to counteract the tendency to focus internally under pressure.

  2. Tendencies: Identify your tendencies and work with a coach to understand how your swing breaks down under pressure

  3. Contingency Plan: Create a contingency plan that includes external or holistic cues to address technical issues while still allowing yourself to swing freely and automatically

Presentation Slides

Presentation Slides
3.55MB ∙ PDF file


Bell, J. J., & Hardy, J. (2009). Effects of attentional focus on skilled performance in golf. Journal of applied sport psychology, 21(2), 163-177.

Carson, H. J., & Collins, D. (2011). Refining and regaining skills in fixation/diversification stage performers: The Five-A Model. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(2), 146-167.

Land, W., & Tenenbaum, G. (2012). An Outcome- and Process-Oriented Examination of a Golf-Specific Secondary Task Strategy to Prevent Choking Under Pressure. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24(3), 303–322.

Park, S. H., Yi, C. W., Shin, J. Y., & Ryu, Y. U. (2015). Effects of external focus of attention on balance: a short review. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(12), 3929-3931.

Vidal, A., Wu, W., Nakajima, M., & Becker, J. (2018). Investigating the constrained action hypothesis: a movement coordination and coordination variability approach. Journal of motor behavior, 50(5), 528-537.

Golf Performance Newsletter
Golf Performance Newsletter
Noah Sachs, Ed.D., CMPC, PGA