Sports, such as basketball, require individuals to shoot under pressure, and under the observation of others, such as co-actors (other performers), an audience, or a coach. Performing in front of others can be a daunting prospect; athletes may feel the pressure to perform up to a certain standard, but crumble. For some players, this pressure induces adrenalin, motivation, and excitement, whereas for others, fear, worry, and anxiety. This feeling a player has then influences their performance outcome, as to whether they strive to succeed and shoot in a given opportunity, or consciously play to avoid failure and pass the ball.

Theory suggests that some players struggle to execute in these game situations, due to undermining fear of failure, letting others down, and evaluation apprehension. Evaluation apprehension is a theory proposed by Cottrell (1968, 1972), which states that a feeling of anxiety, stimulated by arousal, is created when an audience is perceived as evaluating or judging an individual’s performance. This is especially the case when the person the athlete perceives as judging their performance as a significant other, such as a coach, scout, parent of team captain (Jarvis, 2006). The arousal experienced can inhibit or facilitate performance, depending on the personality and skill level of the individual. Depending on whether the athlete views an audience as socially inhibiting or facilitating, depends on whether evaluation apprehension can motivate an athlete to strive towards success, or perform specifically to avoid failure.

Under a state of high arousal and anxiety produced through the social presence of an evaluative audience, a player may perceive the audiences’ judgements as negative threats, thus creating a fear of embarrassment and failure, and potentially inducing social anxiety (Hogg and Vaughan, 2009). Furthermore, in the state of anxious worrying, negative thoughts are created, such as believing you aren’t as competent as your fellow team-mates. The dominant responses and coping strategies to these scenarios include adopting avoidance behaviour to the situation (such as passing the ball rather than shooting when in an open position). In order for players to avoid the chances of failure, they avoid performing and adopt learned helplessness, because if they do not perform, they can not fail or be perceived as a failure. This is underpinned and influenced by the individual’s self-belief in their skill competence, meaning if the player has little confidence in their ability, avoidance behaviour is likely to be embraced (Ridgers, Fazey, and Fairclough, 2007). On the other hand, if the athletes perceives themselves as being competent and have confidence in their ability, their chance of failing is therefore reduced. This is especially the case for elite and expert performers. This causes achievement behaviour, whereby an individual’s behaviour motivation and goal is to demonstrate to others their high ability (achieve to succeed), rather than avoid demonstrating low ability (achieve to avoid failure) (Nicholls, 1984).

To conclude, failing or losing is never a nice feeling, especially when performing in front of others. Some players are afraid to shoot and perform due to this fear of failing in front of an evaluative audience. The notion of being negatively judged is highly influential on an individual’s performance, and whether they fight (motivated to achieve) or take flight (avoid failure) against the anxiety. Therefore, evaluation apprehension, combined with personality and confidence in one’s ability, can provide reasoning as to why some players do not execute in a game.

ReferencesShow all

Cottrell, N.B. (1972). Social Facilitation. In C. McClintock (ed.), Experimental Social Psychology, 185–236. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Cottrell, N.B., Wack, D.L., Sekerak, G.J. & Rittle, R.H. (1968). Social facilitation of dominant responses by presence of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 245–50.

Hogg, M. A., & Vaughan, G. M. (2009). Essentials of social psychology. Pearson Education.

Jarvis, M. (2006). Sport psychology: A student's handbook. Routledge.

Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological review, 91(3), 328.

Ridgers, N. D., Fazey, D., & Fairclough, S. J. (2007). Perceptions of athletic competence and fear of negative evaluation during physical education. British journal of educational psychology, 77(2), 339-349.