New Perspectives on Choking at the Free-throw Line

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Maher, Rouhollah (2018) New Perspectives on Choking at the Free-throw Line. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


The aim was to produce three quality publications including; a review of literature publication and two original studies designed to examine the effects of pressure on free-throw performance, particulary the phenomenon of choking, in the sport of basketball. Pressure when FT shooting is generally experienced by basketball players, irrespective of the level of participation, and resultant choking can affect game outcome and diminish personal enjoyment (Gómez, Lorenzo, Jiménez, Navarro, & Sampaio, 2015; Worthy, Markman, & Maddox, 2009). The theoretical framework for the current study was a triangulated approach by examining choking from multiple perspectives with the common focus on choking in the task of basketball free throw shooting. The combination of a traditional quantitative approach (Study 1) and a less traditional qualitative approach (Study 2) were used to potentially provide perspectives on choking to illuminate possible consistencies and inconsistencies in how choking is experienced. Study 1 was designed to capitalize on the depth of athletes’ knowledge using a small number of elite athletes and reflected a predominantly inductive logic. The findings of this study informed a deeper understanding of how basketball players typically deal with choking and potentially present new knowledge and strategies relevant to alleviate choking within and beyond the sport of basketball. The elements of knowledge, transfer and exchange, the process of acquiring, developing, sharing and applying knowledge was used to question how the results can inform practice in the ‘real world’. In keeping with triangulation, the insider perspective used in Study 1 was equivalent to a ‘bottom up’ explanation of choking. Conversely, Study 2 was designed to more actively control variables in a quasi-experimental manner and was linked in design to the results from Study 1. Study 2 was designed to examine the effects of physical exertion on choking in conjunction with psychological using a larger population of competitive recreational student-athletes and reflected a predominantly deductive logic. More specifically, the aim of the first study was to investigate ‘insider’ perspectives of elite basketball players regarding perceptions of pressure and the associated phenomenon of choking in basketball free-throw shooting. Seven elite basketball players (1 female and 6 males; Mage = 33.3, SD = 5.4) were recruited through snowball sampling. In-depth semi- structured interviews were conducted to enable participants to reflect on experiences of pressure and explanations of how to avoid choking. The data were thematically analysed, with six themes identified; choking definitions, antecedents, personality, automaticity, mental skills, and management strategies. The findings are discussed, especially in the context of mental skills, to reduce choking-susceptibility, and to recommended strategies for players, coaches and sport psychologists to consider when managing chronic choking. More specifically, the aim of the second study was to examine the influence of physical exertion and pressure as potential antecedents of choking in basketball free-throw shooting. A within-subjects design was implemented with 50 student-basketball players who completed 40 basketball free-throws in four manipulated conditions: higher pressure-running, higher pressure-no running, lower pressure-running, and lower pressure-no running. A repeated measure analysis of variance revealed that participants scored significantly lower in the higher-pressure conditions than the lower-pressure conditions. Furthermore, participants scored significantly higher in the no-running conditions compared to the running conditions. The current study was the first to examine the effects of physical exertion on performance in pressure situations. The applied implications of these results are discussed and tentative conclusions drawn for the relevance to players, coaches and sport psychologists. The participants in Study 1 provided unique insights based on their extensive experience performing under pressure at the highest levels of basketball. Participants were aware of the importance of mental skills but were not necessarily sufficiently informed or able to rectify choking without further assistance. The results of Study 2 contributed useful new information and insights into the link between physical exertion and choking. These results provide a new avenue for researchers interested in further examining physical exertion and fatigue as contributing to under-performance under pressure. Overall, the two studies broaden the knowledge regarding the triggers and underlying mechanisms of choking, and also enrich the strategies that athletes can use to optimise their performances. I expect that the current findings will be able to build capacity in assisting those players who experience difficulties in converting critical free-throws. Finally, the results of the current study assist athletes, coaches, and applied sport psychologists to better understand the deleterious effects of pressure in sport and suggest possible solutions to manage them.

Additional Information

This thesis includes published articles for which access is restricted due to copyright (Chapters 3 (study 1), 4 (study 2)). Details of access to these papers has been inserted in the thesis, replacing the articles themselves.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Current > Division/Research > College of Sports and Exercise Science
Keywords thesis by publication; pressure; choking; free throw shooting; sport; basketball; basketball players
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