Exploring choking experiences in elite sport: The role of self-presentation

Denise M. Hill, Sarah Carvell, Nic Matthews, Neil Weston, Richard Thelwell

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Objectives: The aims of this study were twofold: first, to examine the role of self-presentation within the lived-experience of choking in sport; and second, to explore whether the 2 × 2 framework of self-presentation (Howle, Jackson, Conroy, & Dimmock, 2015) holds the potential to further our understanding of acute sporting failure under pressurized conditions.

Design and Method: An empirical phenomenological research design was adopted to address the research aims. Purposefully selected participants completed phenomenological interviews, which explored in detail their experiences of choking and clutch performance under pressure. The sample consisted of 9 elite athletes (6 male and 3 female) (Mage = 27.14; SD = 5.27) from a range of sports (netball, rugby union, golf, tennis, and cricket).

Results: Participants reported a tendency to hold protective-agentic self-presentation motives, low self-presentation efficacy, and self-presentational concerns prior to, and during the choke. Conversely, acquisitive-agentic self-presentation motives, and self-presentation efficacy were experienced before and during clutch performances. However, alongside self-presentation, other psychological constructs also preceded and accompanied the choking experience (e.g., unfamiliarity and perceived control).

Conclusion: This exploratory study is the first to identify the value of examining choking in sport through the lens of the 2 × 2 self-presentation framework, with self-presentation motives appearing to influence the choking experience. Yet, it is also evident that self-presentation may not explain all choking episodes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-149
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date5 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • clutch
  • pressure
  • paradoxical performance
  • 2 x 2 framework


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