Time to Think?
In a 2020 study published in Nature Communications, researchers concluded that a person experiences approximately 6.5 thought clusters per minute. You can think of a thought cluster as a group of similar thoughts. Each cluster can consist of 7-8 thoughts.
When your mind is bombarded with thoughts, performance declines or stalls. In tennis, Tour players have 20 seconds before each serve. Under pressure, those 20 seconds will significantly impact your play. Overthinking a serve will usually cost you the point. The following is an example of an outcome thought cluster for tennis: “What if I mess up? I can’t miss this shot. I will lose the game. If I lose, I won’t be offered a scholarship. There is no way I can afford college.” As you can tell, overthinking detracts from focusing on the moment.
The most critical moments for a golfer are just before striking the ball. In golf, PGA players are limited to 40 seconds per shot. However, this period of time is enough to over-analyzing your actions. This cluster example revolves around technical thoughts, “My forearms are so tight. Loosen grip. Don’t hit the ball too hard. The greens are slick. Focus on the hole. Bring the club straight back. Don’t decelerate the club head, or I will leave the putt short.”
Athletes overthink and over-analyze when they become consciously aware of their disruptive thought clusters and experience increased stress. They will feel rushed and become keenly aware of their physiological responses (sweating, breathing fast, heart pounding, tight muscles). In addition, these athletes will second-guess their strategy, worry about the outcome, compare themselves to other athletes in the competition, and overemphasize the importance of results. At this point, optimal play is practically impossible.