The tips in this New York Times article were for golfers but I think the underlying ideas can be applied to most anything:
Beilock suggested that golfers play games for small change with their friends on the practice putting green. If practicing alone, she said, a golfer ought to put some sort of incentive on the task, like promising to make 10 3-footers in a row before going home.
“Anything that holds you to the consequences of not succeeding will be effective,” Beilock said.
Practice under pressure doesn’t make perfect. It does appear to hardwire the brain for better performance. Or as Sam Snead said prophetically many years ago, “Practice puts brains in your muscles.”
Through experimentation in her lab, Beilock has also come up with some antichoking techniques, whether you’re a pro playing for $1 million or a weekend duffer desperately trying to will a 3-footer into the hole to save face. Her tips:
¶ Be quick on the greens — not hurried, but not overly deliberate. “It helps to have a routine, but putting as quickly as was reasonable is a good idea,” she said. “We told people to err on the side of being quick, and it worked.”
¶ Find something to focus on, like the manufacturer’s name or logo on the ball. It can help prevent the prefrontal cortex from too closely regulating your movements.
¶ A one-, two- or three-word mantra helps. Like the word “smooth” while putting, or a three-word timing device during your swing. Something like, “back, and, through.”
¶ If you have serious putting problems, like the yips, changing your putting grip can reprogram the brain circuits to help you execute.
¶ Focus on the goal or target, not mechanics. Some people look at the hole rather than the ball, or visualize the back of the cup. “It sends a signal to the brain to achieve a certain outcome,” she said.
For more on the subject, check out Beilock’s great book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.