How Competitive Pressure Affects Male and Female Athletes

Sprinters on the block before a raceMale athletes may be more likely to have difficulty performing under competitive pressure than women, according to a paper from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. When women were affected by competitive pressure, the decline in their performance was only about half the decline that men experienced.

Are Male Athletes More Likely to Choke Under Pressure?

To assess the effects of competitive pressure on male and female athletes, researchers looked at data on the first sets of the four 2010 Grand Slam tournaments. The analysis included 4,127 women’s games and 4,153 men’s games. The tournaments are highly competitive, and athletes can win large sums of money. This can create intense pressure for participants.

Male athletes consistently underperformed in high-pressure situations, while women showed less deterioration in performance. Even when competitive pressure did interfere with women’s performance, their decline in performance was about 50% of men’s decline. This suggests high-pressure competitive settings might negatively affect male athletes more than female athletes.

Though the study points toward future research possibilities on the effects of competitive pressure, its authors advise caution in interpreting the results. The study only looked at tennis players, so it is premature to apply the results to other competitive situations. Because the study only explored competition between people of the same sex, it is not clear how competition between people of an opposite sex may differ. In most contexts, men and women must compete with each other and with non-binary people, not just with the same sex.

Competition and Mental Health

Job interviews, educational opportunities, rivalries with neighbors and coworkers, and countless other everyday events can cause competitive pressure. Choking under pressure not only affects access to jobs and educational opportunities; it can also affect mental health. Understanding the effects of competitive pressure may help therapists better prepare people in therapy for high-stakes events.

Regardless of who someone may be competing against, competition can have both positive and negative effects on mental health. Those who have healthy levels of competitiveness are also likely to have positive self-esteem, but competition that becomes obsessive can increase stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.


Male athletes more likely to choke under pressure — Ben-Gurion U. study. (2016, November 10). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Nina

    November 16th, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    aaah so I am proven right- women are stronger about this than men ;)

  • Bree

    November 20th, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    Anyone who has ever competed in competitive sports or been an athlete on this level knows that there will always be situations where you get stressed out and you worry about an inability to perform to your highest level.
    This is not about being a male or a female, this is about being a human being.
    There are times that we have all unintentionally choked under pressure and I really don’t think that it has to do with gender. Instead I think that it has to do with how you have been coached and how you have personally learned to not only handle that competition but how to also deal with the pressure that can go along with that.

  • lizzie d

    November 21st, 2016 at 3:08 PM

    In general I think that men and women have different methods for coping with stressful situations. That is not to say that one is right and that one is wrong, but we are different so those coping methods are also bound to be different.
    With that being said, these are elite level athletes that we are talking about here and I rarely think that these are people who allow their nerves or even their fears to get the best of them. They are professional enough and skilled enough to put that behind them and concentrate on the jobs that they have to do.

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