BACKGROUND: Determining practical ways to enhance motor learning and performance are crucial for adaptive behavior under high-pressure. Research has shown that external focus of attention; learning a skill implicitly; and exposing individuals to high-pressure practices facilitate performance under high-pressure. However little is known about a synergistic effect to prevent choking. This study examined a potential synergistic effect to maximize performance under high-pressure on beginners who learned dart-throwing techniques. METHODS: Eighty participants performed a 10-trial pretest and learned dart-throwing techniques (6 blocks of 10 trials) on day 1, and on Day 2 (24 hours after practice), they performed two posttests (low and high pressure - 10 trials in each block). Individuals were divided into four practice condition groups: (1) explicit learning high-pressure practice (EH); (2) explicit learning low-pressure practice (EL); (3) analogy learning high-pressure practice (AH); and (4) analogy learning low-pressure practice (AL). To increase pressure on day 1, participants were recorded while practicing and told their kinematics would be analyzed. On day 2, during the high-pressure posttest, in addition to recording the trials, participants were told the best 5 performances would receive money; and that the previous participant had the best result so far. For both low-pressure practice groups and low-pressure posttest, the instructions were to do their best while aiming for bulls-eye. RESULTS: To assess motor learning two 2 (Practice Pressure: low vs. high) x 2 (Practice Instructions: explicit vs. analogy) x 2 (Post-Test: low- vs. high-pressure) mixed-factor ANOVAs, with repeated-measures on the last factor for accuracy and precision were utilized. Results revealed that there was a statistical significant difference between groups during the high-pressure posttest (F(1,75) = 6.641, p=0.012). Specifically, the explicit learning high-pressure practice group showed superior performance. Mean scores were as follows: Explicit High-pressure (M 7.19 cm ± 2.44 cm); Analogy High-pressure (M 9.79 ± 2.21); Analogy Low-pressure (M 10.07 ± 2.39 cm); Explicit Low-pressure (M 14.02 cm ± 5.69 cm) (lower score represents better performance/learning). CONCLUSIONS: Combining explicit learning instructions and high-pressure simulation during practice provided a superior performance on the posttest and prevented choking under pressure.

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