Advances in Physical Education
2012. Vol.2, No.4, 144-147
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Warming up with Pressure Improves Subsequent Clutch
Performance on a Golf-Putting Task
Desmond McEwan1, Rodney Schmaltz2, Kathleen A. Martin Ginis1
1Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
2Department of Psychology, Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada
Received August 25th, 2012; revised September 28th, 2012; accepted October 11th, 2012
The purpose of the current study was to determine if athletic performance in a high-pressure situation is
improved by briefly warming up under high-pressure conditions. Participants first completed a warm up
round of golf putting (five shots) under low, moderate, or high pressure. Following a short break, partici-
pants completed a single putt under high pressure. Participants who completed the warm up under high
pressure performed significantly better on the subsequent high-pressure shot than those who warmed up
under low pressure. Warming up under pressure may be an effective means of improving performance in
an impending high-pressure situation.
Keywords: Choking; Pressure; Psychology; Golf; Explicit Monitoring
The phenomenon known as “choking under pressure” has
been subject to extensive experimental research in sport and
performance psychology. Choking occurs when an individual
performs poorer under instances of high pressure (or in “clutch”
situations) in comparison to his/her performance under in-
stances of lower pressure (Beilock & Gray, 2007). There are
certainly times when athletes do not perform at their peak but,
in many instances, these performance decrements occur during
critical points of competition when the importance of perform-
ing well is very high. For instance, a golfer may find that suc-
cessfully sinking a short putt on the final hole of a major to win
the tournament is far more daunting than other putts taken dur-
ing competition.
Numerous theories have been proposed and tested to deter-
mine why high pressure can impair performance. Among these
is the explicit monitoring theory, which posits that high-pres-
sure situations raise self-consciousness and anxiety regarding
performance (Baumeister, 1984; Beilock & Gray, 2007). In
these clutch situations, individuals try to exert more explicit
control and monitoring than normally would be applied (and
required) in lower-pressure situations. Several studies have
provided support for this theory as a potential explanation for
choking (e.g., Baumeister, 1984; Beilock & Carr, 2001; Lewis
& Linder, 1997; Masters, 1992) and suggest that the psycho-
logical demands—specifically the self-regulatory demands—are
different in high-pressure situations of competition compared to
other situations. In addition, research guided by the explicit
monitoring theory has been conducted to test for potential ways
to ameliorate choking. Most pertinent to the current study is the
finding that an athlete’s learning condition can affect his/her
performance in later high-pressure situations. Beilock and Carr
(2001) found that participants who were trained on a golf-put-
ting task under self-consciousness-evoking learning conditions
were less likely to choke on a high-pressure follow-up task that
would increase self-consciousness compared to those who had
been trained under conditions that did not evoke self-con-
sciousness. The researchers concluded that these participants
performed better because they had been trained under condi-
tions similar to the final testing situation. In addition, other
studies have found that individuals who train under conditions
of mild anxiety are more likely to perform successfully in later
high-pressure situations compared to those who train without
anxiety (Oudejans & Pijpers, 2010; Oudejans & Pijpers, 2009).
Thus, it seems that individuals are better prepared for perform-
ing in situations that are similar to those they have encountered
previously, as they seem to have become “accustomed” to the
self-regulatory demands of these types of situations (Baumeis-
ter, 1984).
In the current study, we sought to build upon the results of
the aforementioned studies of performing in high-pressure
situations. While the training environment that an athlete prac-
tices in is clearly an important factor for improving perform-
ance under high pressure, we believe that preparation should
also occur just prior to these high-pressure scenarios (i.e., dur-
ing an individual’s warm up). As Baumeister, Heatherton, and
Tice (1994: p. 19) put it: “people who are not accustomed to
controlling themselves should find it difficult to do so when it
suddenly becomes necessary.” We also believe that this type of
a warm up to pressure need not be extensive. Rather, even a
brief simulation of pressure will be beneficial to individuals’
performance in a subsequent high-pressure situation as it will
help prime the self-regulatory processes required for perform-
ing optimally in these latter situations. We tested this possibil-
ity in the present experiment using a golf-putting task. Partici-
pants first completed a series of warm up shots under low,
moderate, or high pressure. Thereafter, all participants com-
pleted a single, high-pressure putt, as a simulation of the clutch
situations that often result in choking in sports. Presumably,
those who had recently experienced these high-pressure sce-
narios (i.e., those in the high-pressure warm up condition)
would be better able to self-regulate under these conditions and,
thus, perform better than those who had not recently experi-
enced putting under high pressure (i.e., those in the low-pres-
sure warm up condition).
It was hypothesized that the warm up condition would be a
significant predictor of performance on the single, high-pres-
sure shot. Specifically, participants who warmed up in the high-
pressure condition would be more likely to make the high-
pressure shot than those in the moderate-pressure group who, in
turn, would be more likely to make the high-pressure shot than
those in the low-pressure group. We believed that these differ-
ences would emerge because those who had already performed
in a high-pressure situation would become accustomed to the
psychological demands of performing in these high-pressure
The study sample consisted of 119 undergraduate students
(28 males, 91 females) from a Canadian university who re-
ceived credit toward an introductory psychology course re-
quirement participated in this study. Ethical approval for the
study was given from the university’s research ethics board.
After signing a consent form, participants were given an
overview of the procedure and asked to take five practice shots
to become familiar with the putter and the putting green. The
putting task was completed with a neutral-handed putter and
regulation golf ball on a nine-foot long indoor, carpeted putting
green, which had a regulation-sized cup. The actual length of
all putts was 7 feet. Although there was only one participant per
session, participants were led to believe that three other indi-
viduals were completing the same study at the same time in
separate rooms within the testing laboratory with another ex-
perimenter. The reason given for this separation of participants
was that there was not enough room in the present room for all
four participants; in actuality, this cover story was given to set
up the later manipulation.
Participants were randomly allocated to the low- (n = 39),
moderate- (n = 38), or high-pressure (n = 42) warm up condi-
tion and read through a form that provided more detailed in-
formation about the experimental task. Written instructions
were provided in order to keep the experimenter blind to the
condition and, thus, prevent any potential demand awareness
effects. The experimenter left the room for two minutes and,
upon return, asked if the participants read and understood the
procedure form—there were no instances in which a participant
did not understand clearly and, thus, no instances where an
experimenter was clued into which group a participant had been
assigned to.
Warm up round of putting. Participants were given one of
three pieces of information depending on which warm up con-
dition they were in. In the low-pressure condition, participants
read that the study was being conducted to determine how
many putts an average student can make out of five attempts. In
the moderate-pressure condition, participants read that he/she
had been paired with one of the other alleged study participants
and competing against the other two alleged participants; as
such, the social pressure to perform well (i.e., not letting one’s
teammate down) was higher in this condition compared to the
low-pressure condition. The participant was told that there
would be a series of rounds of five putts; his/her team’s score
would be compared against the other team’s score and the win-
ning team would receive a ten-dollar prize; this potential
monetary reward was also included to increase the importance
of performing well compared to the low-pressure condition. In
the high-pressure condition, the participant read a similar pro-
cedure form as those participants in the moderate condition;
however, he/she was told that there would only be one round of
putting. This was included to increase the importance of per-
forming well compared to the moderate-pressure condition.
That is, while participants in the moderate-pressure condition
would supposedly have many chances to perform well (in
which case, they could “make up” for any poor performances
over several rounds), participants in the high-pressure would
only have one round of putting to perform well. Moreover, the
participant was told that the other three participants had already
completed their putts and his/her current performance would
decide who the winners would be. Upon completion of the first
five putts, the experimenter exited the room to allegedly tally
up the results.
The tiebreaker scenario. After two minutes, the experi-
menter returned and handed the participant another procedure
form. This form described that there had been a tie between the
two teams and he/she was required to take a final shot to decide
the competition’s winners. The cover story varied slightly to
correspond with the information presented in the initial round
of putting. As such, participants in the low-pressure condition
were informed that, contrary to what they were previously told,
they had actually been paired with another participant and were
competing against two other participants for a ten-dollar prize.
Essentially, they were told what participants in the high-pres-
sure condition were originally told and that a tie resulted from
this alleged competition. Participants in the moderate-pressure
group were informed that, instead of several rounds of putting,
the previous five putts were the only ones that would count
towards their final score but there was a tie between the two
teams. Participants in the high-pressure condition read that the
initial round of putting did not decide a winner because of a tie.
All participants were then told that there was only time for one
shot because the experimental session needed to be completed
shortly. Therefore, if the participant made the shot, his/her team
would receive the ten-dollar reward (five dollars each); how-
ever, if he/she missed, no reward would be given. Upon com-
pletion of the tiebreaker shot, participants were asked how
much pressure and anxiety they felt throughout the experiment,
probed for suspicions regarding the true purpose of the study,
and debriefed. To maintain ethical standards, all participants
were given the five-dollar reward, regardless of their perform-
ance on this shot.
Data Analysis
A one-way ANOVA was first carried out to determine
whether conditions differed significantly in shot percentages on
the initial five warm-up putts. A binary logistic regression was
then conducted to determine whether the condition in which
participants completed the five warm up shots predicted per-
formance on the tiebreaker shot. The outcome variable was
whether participants made or missed this tiebreaker shot. The
predictor variable was condition in the warm up round of put-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 145
The shot percentage for the low-pressure condition in the
warm up round was 34.4%, compared to 33.2% for the moder-
ate-pressure condition, and 37.1% for the high-pressure condi-
tion. A one-way ANOVA revealed that successful shot per-
centages on the five warm up shots were not significantly dif-
ferent between the three conditions (i.e., regardless of condition,
participants were equally likely to make a given shot during the
warm up), F(118) = .25, p = .78. Ten out of 39 participants
(25.6%) in the low-pressure condition successfully made the
subsequent tiebreaker shot, compared to 13 out of 38 partici-
pants (34.2%) in the moderate-pressure condition, and 20 out of
42 participants in the high-pressure condition. The binary logis-
tic regression revealed that condition was a significant predictor
of performance on the tiebreaker shot. As hypothesized, par-
ticipants in the high-pressure warm up condition were more
likely to make the tiebreaker shot than participants in the
low-pressure warm up condition, Wald = 4.09, β = .97, p = .043.
Contrary to hypothesis, participants in the moderate-pressure
condition did not perform significantly better than those in the
low-pressure condition, Wald = .67, β = .41, p = .413.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether warming
up under high pressure would predict better performance on a
subsequent high-pressure athletic task compared to warming up
under moderate or low pressure. In partial support of our hy-
pothesis, participants who warmed up under high pressure per-
formed significantly better on the high-pressure tiebreaker shot
than those who completed the warm up under low pressure.
This finding provides an important contribution to the literature
on performing under pressure. Specifically, it suggests that a
brief warm up under pressure may be a beneficial way for im-
proving performance in subsequent clutch situations.
The results of this study complement the findings of previous
studies, which have shown that training in an environment that
simulates the high-pressure circumstances that occur during
athletic competition results in improved performance when
these situations subsequently arise (Beilock & Carr, 2001;
Oudejans & Pijpers, 2009; Oudejans & Pijpers, 2010). In addi-
tion to training for high-pressure situations (i.e., during prac-
tices), our results indicate that it seems beneficial to briefly
warm up for these situations (i.e., just prior to when they are
expected to occur). Furthermore, as our initial round of putting
consisted of a mere five shots, it seems that this warm up need
not be overly exhaustive. As such, athletes—as well as coaches
and/or sport psychologists—could easily employ this technique
without interfering with the normal preparation for competition.
Preparing for high-pressure situations can be viewed as analo-
gous to preparing oneself, physically. That is, to ensure high
athletic performance, a muscle or physical skill must first be
trained in a manner that simulates the physical demands that
will occur during an upcoming competition. Then, just prior to
the competition, the athlete must stretch and warm up to also
help ensure optimal performance. In much the same way,
preparation for the psychological demands of a forthcoming
high-pressure competition should occur during training and also
while warming up immediately before the competition.
This study provides further support for the utility of the ex-
plicit monitoring theory as a guiding framework for improving
athletic performance under pressure. This theory posits that,
under pressure, self-consciousness increases and individuals
attend to the step-by-step processes involved in completing a
motor task, which impairs performance (Baumeister, 1984;
Beilock & Gray, 2007). However, this theory also suggests that
familiarizing oneself with the conditions that will result in this
conscious control of the skill is a beneficial way of improving
performance under pressure (Baumeister, 1984). Indeed, the
psychological demands on an athlete to perform well under
high pressure are different than in normal competitive situations
(Beilock & Carr, 2001; Beilock & Gray, 2007). By preparing
for these demands in training and just prior to competition ath-
letes can become better able to deal with the self-regulatory
demands of high-pressure circumstances. In turn, this prepara-
tion can result in improved performance during clutch situations.
While the results of this study provide a novel contribution to
the literature of performance under pressure, it is not without its
limitations. For one, our sample consisted of undergraduate
psychology students. As such, it may be premature to suggest
that these results generalize to athletes. Secondly, while the
purpose of not having participants interact with other alleged
competitors (e.g., a study confederate) in the experiment was to
prevent any group dynamics effects, the resulting manner in
which the current study was conducted is somewhat artificial
compared to real-world sporting competitions. Thirdly, while
being debriefed, most participants in the high-pressure warm up
condition claimed that they felt high pressure to perform well,
while most in the low-pressure condition indicated that they felt
little or no pressure to perform well. However, a more rigorous
manipulation check would be valuable to help quantify the
amount of pressure (or other emotions such as anxiety) that
participants may have experienced.
Future Directions
Discovering the most beneficial ways in which athletes can
perform optimally in high-pressure situations continues to be a
focus for numerous researchers in the field of sport psychology.
The results from the current study are the first to suggest that it
may be helpful for athletes to warm up under conditions that
simulate the impending high-pressure situations that will arise
during competition, and it would be valuable that additional
tests of this hypothesis be carried out. For instance, it may
prove beneficial to test this hypothesis with elite athletes to
confirm that these results generalize to this population. Also,
our warm up was quite brief, consisting of only five putts. Al-
though this was intentional to show that warming up for subse-
quent high-pressure situations need not be extensive, it would
be valuable to determine the ideal length of time of a warm up
(i.e., the dose-response relationship between warming up and
subsequent performance under pressure). Future research
should also assess the combination of the optimal training and
warm up situations that best replicate the experience of
high-pressure competitions and, in turn, improve performance
in actual competitions, thereafter.
Baumeister, R. F. (1984). Choking under pressure: Self-consciousness
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 147
and paradoxical effects of incentives on skillful performance. Jour-
nal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 610-620.
Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1994). Losing
control. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Beilock, S. L., & Carr, T. H. (2001). On the fragility of skilled per-
formance: What governs choking under pressure? Journal of Ex-
perimental Psychology: General, 130, 701-725.
Beilock, S. L., & Gray, R. (2007). Why do athletes “choke” under
pressure? In G. Tenenbaum, & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of
sport psychology (pp. 425-444). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Lewis, B., & Linder, D. (1997). Thinking about choking? Attentional
processes and paradoxical performance. Personality & Social Psy-
chology Bulletin, 23, 937-944. doi:10.1177/0146167297239003
Masters, R. S. W. (1992). Knowledge, knerves, and know-how: The
role of explicit versus implicit knowledge in the breakdown of a
complex motor skill under pressure. British Journal of Psychology,
83, 343-358. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1992.tb02446.x
Oudejans, R. R. D., & Pijpers, J. R. (2009). Training with anxiety has a
positive effect on expert perceptual-motor performance under pres-
sure. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6 2, 1631-1647.
Oudejans, R. D., & Pijpers, J. R. (2010). Training with mild anxiety
may prevent choking under higher levels of anxiety. Psychology of
Sport and Exercise, 11, 44-50. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.05.002