When favourites fail: Tournament trophies as reward cues in tennis finals
SourceJournal of Sports Sciences, 29, 13, (2011), pp. 1463-1470
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI AO
Journal of Sports Sciences
SubjectWork, Health and Performance
In tournaments in various sports that feature one-on-one competition, the trophy is sometimes prominently displayed near the athletes during the final. Based on recent research on subtle reward cues, we propose that such trophies have the potential to induce choking under pressure in the match favourites, who are known to be most at risk. To test this idea, we analysed real-life tennis performance data (service performance and rally performance) from professional tournaments. While favourites generally outperformed underdogs during rallies, they did not do so in finals in which (a) large amounts of money were at stake and (b) a trophy was on display near the court. These findings support the idea that tournament trophies may distract favourites by continuously reminding them of what is at stake, and via that route may severely thwart their performance.
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