From Scientific American comes research into avoiding choking under pressure, be it in sports, on the job or anywhere else in your life. Some concepts seem counterintuitive, but have been borne out somewhat by studies.
We choke under pressure because such conditions thwart the normal brain processing of tasks that are so well learned they have become "automatic."
Trying to concentrate on monitoring the quality of your performance is counterproductive because the cerebellum, which controls complex motor tasks, is not consciously accessible.
Ratcheting up the pressure at your practice sessions is the best way to avoid failing when it counts.
The article is an interesting look at coping mechanism when facing a pressure-packed situation. I found this part very germane to sports:
The best way to make a performance situation feel like rehearsal, says Raôul R. D. Oudejans, a psychologist at Free University Amsterdam, is to subject yourself to the same anxiety-packed conditions during practice that you expect to encounter during your moment in the spotlight.
I imagine that's why football teams pipe in artificial noise at practice to simulate a hostile crowd. I am curious as to what strategies people use when facing a pressurized situation? I try to calm down and focus on something totally unrelated, which often acts to distract my mind.
Hat tip to Deadspin.