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Don’t crumble under the pressure



Take the pressure off!

Sports physiotherapist

Have you ever missed a game in practice, even though you’d already played it without difficulty? Or watching your favorite athlete miss a simple move when the stakes are higher at a tournament, final series or Olympic Games? This phenomenon of crumbling under pressure is sometimes seen in highly stressful situations where the stakes are high. It would seem that the more important the task is to the athlete, the greater the fear of failure (1). During a game, goalkeepers have enormous responsibilities, and the margin for error is slim.

It appears that an important element of vision could help maintain a high level of performance in these situations.

As discussed in a previous article, Quiet Eye (QE) is an important determinant of performance, and a longer duration of QE is essential for stopping. In stressful situations, researchers have shown that EQ duration tends to be shorter, which can reduce performance (1). Although the underlying cognitive mechanisms are still under investigation, a few theories explain how this phenomenon could have a protective effect on performance-related stress.

During a match, the goalkeeper may focus on internal factors and become overwhelmed by stress. At this point, its attention is directed towards stimuli or threats. The information is therefore transmitted to the brain via the ventral pathway, which passes through the amygdala and the hippocampus, areas that are heavily involved in the phenomenon of fear, among others (1, 3). In these situations, we observe that athletes’ gaze fixes on more locations, directing their attention to unnecessary stimuli and shortening the duration of the EQ (1). Unconsciously, the goalkeeper’s information gathering becomes deficient, putting him at risk of conceding poor goals.

On the other hand, when the goalie fixes the puck or, more precisely, the puck-puck interface, he adopts a strategy that can protect him from pressure. It’s a goal-oriented approach, which allows information to be transmitted via the dorsal pathway in the brain, preventing activation of the ventral pathway and intrusion of unnecessary thoughts or emotions. Use of this pathway would be associated with fewer superfluous attachment points and longer EQ duration, as well as better performance in sports (1).

Not only would an effective EQ lead to better performance, it would also be of great help in managing pressure. An extended EQ will protect the guard from unnecessary distractions. While the concepts that explain such a phenomenon are rather complex, the training methods to improve it can be rather simple. Indeed, even techniques for training EQ could create an optimal attentional state that would lead to ¨flow¨, which can be defined as an optimal mental state placing you in ¨your zone¨ towards high performance (2).

Stay tuned for the next article on the subject, which will deal with EQ training specifically for goalkeepers.


Written by
Maxime Provencher

Sports physiotherapist at la Clinique du Peps de L’université Laval

Photo credit: Steve Roy


  1. Vine, S. J., Moore, L. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2014). Quiet eye training: The acquisition, refinement and resilient performance of targeting skills. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(sup1), S235-S242.
  2. Harris, D. J., Vine, S. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2017). Flow and quiet eye: the role of attentional control in flow experience. Cognitive processing, 18(3), 343-347.
  3. Lebeau, J. C., Liu, S., Sáenz-Moncaleano, C., Sanduvete-Chaves, S., Chacón-Moscoso, S., Becker, B. J., & Tenenbaum, G. (2016). Quiet eye and performance in sport: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 38(5), 441-457.

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