Choke (sports)

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In sports, a "choke" is the failure of an athlete or an athletic team to win a game or tournament when the player or team had been strongly favored to win or had squandered a large lead in the late stages of the event. Someone who chokes may be known as a "choker" or, more derisively, as a "choke artist." Choking in sport can be considered a form of analysis paralysis. The opposite of choking is to be "clutch". A clutch player or team rises to the occasion under pressure rather than collapsing or falling apart.

Explanation for why choking happens[edit]

Two dominant theories have emerged from the research; explicit monitoring, and distraction theory.

Explicit monitoring theory[edit]

The explicit monitoring theory provides an explanation for athlete’s under-performance at the precise moment they need to be at their best. Sian Beilock and Tom Carr suggest that “pressure raises self-consciousness and anxiety about performing correctly, which increases the attention paid to skill processes and their step-by-step control. Attention to execution at this step-by-step level is thought to disrupt well-learned or proceduralized performances.”[1]

Distraction theory[edit]

Distraction theory was first suggested by Wine [2] to explain under-performance in performance pressure situations. Distraction theorists argue that pressure creates a dual task situation which draws attention away from the task at hand. Attention is then focused towards irrelevant stimuli such as worries, social expectations, and anxiety [3] Wine first tested his hypothesis with academic tests but it has since been applied to athletics.

Research has found that distraction theory is supported in situations where working memory is used to analyze and make decisions quickly.[4] Short term memory is used to maintain relevant stimuli and block irrelevant information as it relates to the task at hand.[5]

Examples of choking in sports[edit]


In 1996, Greg Norman led the US Masters by 6 strokes going into the final day only to shoot a final day 78 and lose by five strokes to Nick Faldo.[citation needed]

Ice Hockey[edit]

Four NHL teams have taken a 3–0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to lose 4–3 in the best-of-seven series: the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2010 Boston Bruins, and 2014 San Jose Sharks.[citation needed]

The 2012–2013 season showed the Toronto Maple Leafs "choking" in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Boston Bruins. The Leafs allowed the Boston Bruins to come back from a 3 goal deficit in the last few minutes of the game. Boston would go on to win in overtime.[citation needed]

On February 20, 2014, at the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, in the Women's Gold medal game between Team USA and Team Canada, the US was up 2–0 in the third period with only 3:30 minutes left in the game. The Canadian team rallied and scored, bringing the game to 2–1. The US had an opportunity to score into the empty net but hit the goal post instead. Then Canada tied the score in the third period with 55 seconds left and won the game in sudden death overtime.[6]


The South African national Cricket team has gained a reputation as a frequent choker at global cricket tournaments conducted by the International Cricket Council. Despite being consistently one of the best-performing nations in all forms of cricket since its return from isolation, the Proteas have never progressed beyond the semi-final stage at a World Cup, nor won a game during the knock-out stage of the tournament.[7][not in citation given] This reputation arises largely from two events:

  • In the 1999 Super Six Stage, Herschelle Gibbs dropped eventual centurion Steve Waugh after which Australia went on to win the match,[8] then a shambolic run-out involving Allan Donald and Lance Klusener in the semi-final also against Australia ended South Africa's second innings with the scores tied. Australia progressed on the basis of its superior run rate through the tournament.
  • In the Proteas' final game of Cricket World Cup 2003's group stage (which was effectively a knock-out match, as they had to win to progress to the super six), South Africa tied the rain-affected game against Sri Lanka which they could have won, after they misinterpreted the Duckworth-Lewis rain rule tables shortly before the match was called off.

In addition to surrendering commanding positions in the above matches, South Africa suffered upset losses against the West Indies in 1996 and New Zealand in 2011.[9] South Africa's win in the 1998 ICC KnockOut Trophy remains their only international tournament victory to date.

The English national Cricket team, despite being consistently among the top half dozen ranked teams in international cricket, have only won one global tournament so far, the 2010 ICC World Twenty20, and are noted for having thrown away winning positions in several high-profile games, including:

  • In the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy final, England had put themselves into a dominant position by reducing the West Indies to 147/8 chasing a target of 218, but failed to prevent tail-enders Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw from putting together an unlikely partnership of 71 to win.
  • In the 2013 Champions Trophy final against India, England batted second and got into a position of needing just 20 runs off the last 16 balls, with six wickets in hand, but lost four wickets in the space of eight balls and lost the match by five runs.[10]

American football[edit]

Use of the term "choke" in this context is most frequently encountered in the United States, and appears to be of relatively recent origin, not becoming reasonably widespread until well into the 1960s.[citation needed]

In a Wild Card playoff matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers On January 3, 1993, the Oilers blew a 32-point lead to lose in overtime, the largest in a playoff game in NFL history. This game is known to this day as The Comeback, or locally in Houston as The Choke.[11]


Prior to 2014, the University of Mississippi (aka "Ole Miss Rebels") baseball team had gone 0–6 in NCAA Super Regional games, at home, after winning the first game in their three most-recent best-of-three series.[12] For example, during the 2012 NCAA baseball regionals, the Rebels were 2–0 and one win from advancing to the Super Regionals, but lost two straight games to TCU and failed to advance. In reference to the University of Mississippi baseball team's then 41-year absence from the College World Series, rival fanbases [13] coined OMAHA as an acronym for "Ole Miss At Home Again". However, after defeating The University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the 2014 Super Regional, Ole Miss finally advanced to the College World Series for the first time in 42 years, winning two games and advancing to the semi-finals.[14] Ironically, as Ole Miss returned to Omaha in 2014, the school's second-most important rival, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, failed to capitalize on a 2–0 start in the Lafayette Regional, choking away the opportunity to hold serve with the Rebels.[15][16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beilock, S. L., & Carr, T. H. (2001). On the fragility of skilled performance: What governs choking under pressure?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(4), 701–725. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.130.4.701
  2. ^ Wine, J. (1971). Test anxiety and direction of attention. Psychological Bulletin, 76, 92–104.
  3. ^ Beilock, S. L., & Carr, T. H. (2001). On the fragility of skilled performance: What governs choking under pressure?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(4), 701–725. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.130.4.701
  4. ^ Beilock, S. H. (2005). When High-Powered People Fail. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 16(2), 101–105.
  5. ^ Miyake, A., & Shah, P. (1999). Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control. New York: University Press.
  6. ^ Kiszla, Mark (2014-02-20). "Kiszla: U.S. women's hockey loss a noble Olympic choke at Sochi". Denver Post. 
  7. ^ Sarkar, Pritha (25 March 2011). "Cricket – New Zealand beat South Africa to reach World Cup semis". Reuters. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Bull, Andy (2011-06-14). "'You've just dropped the World Cup' – Australia v South Africa 12 years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  9. ^ Bull, Andy (March 25, 2011). "Deja vu all over again as South Africa choke and exit the World Cup". (London). Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  10. ^ Alter, Jamie (23 June 2013). "India lift Champions Trophy after England choke in 20-over final". IBN. Retrieved 23 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Seminara, Dave (January 1, 2013). "The Greatest Rally, or the Biggest Fade?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 3.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  12. ^ 1 second ago. "NCAA Super Regional Game 3 Postgame Notes". OLE MISS Official Athletic Site. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
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  16. ^ "The Ole Miss Rebels: The Buffalo Bills of NCAA Baseball". Red Cup Rebellion. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  17. ^ "College Baseball: USM Going To Omaha; Ole Miss At Home Again | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS". Jackson Free Press. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2013-08-07.