A winning or losing moment can make some athletes choke due to pressure or ruin their performance.
Now, a new study has explained why paying too much attention turns out wrong for athletes, and also suggested ways to help sort out these problems.
"We think when you're under pressure, that your attention goes inward naturally. Suddenly it means so much, you want to make sure everything's working properly," said Rob Gray, of the University of Birmingham, the author of the study.
And that is exactly when things go wrong. Something about paying attention to what you're doing makes it not work right.
Gray has found that baseball players that are under pressure have fewer hits because their swing varies more under pressure than at normal times.
Other researchers have found that climbers move less fluidly when they're higher up on a wall than when they're near the ground, which suggests that their joints move less freely when they're more anxious.
The research described that there are particular things that go wrong when someone is under pressure-changing the angle of the club head when putting or throwing with more force.
If those things can be identified, a coach could work on the particular problems.
One way to do it might be with analogies, according to Gray.
The study has been published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.