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Want to freak out your foes? 'Ice' them

Randy Dotinga writes: If you're a football fan, you've probably seen a team "ice" an opposing kicker in the final moments of a close game by taking a timeout at the last possible second.

The idea is to throw the kicker off his stride by disrupting his concentration and giving him more time to worry about how the entire game rides on his ability to get the pigskin between those uprights.

A new study says icing in the NFL is actually a pretty good strategy, providing even more support for a counterintuitive rule of thumb (and foot): Sometimes, extra time to prepare is the last thing people need when they're under pressure.

"The more time people have on their hands, the more opportunities they have to think too much. And taking too much time to attend to every detail of what you are doing can muck up your performance," says Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.

That seems to be what happens to kickers in the NFL when they're iced right before a crucial kick.

Researchers looked at 273 "pressure kicks" in the last moments of close games from six NFL seasons. They found that kickers successfully kicked field goals more than 80 percent of the time when they weren't delayed by a timeout by the opposing team. But the success rate tumbled to two-thirds when they were iced, said the report, which appears in the September issue of the journal The Sports Psychologist.

There may be more going on than just overthinking. "It's possible that physically preparing for the kick is taxing," says study lead author Nadav Goldschmied, a professor of psychology at the University of San Diego. "You're getting ready, you're under pressure, you're focused, and then you stop and then you need to do the preparation phase again."

Beilock, the University of Chicago professor, says the lesson of the study -- be careful about taking too much time here to think and analyze -- will likely apply to "any situation where there is pressure to perform at a high level."

You can even apply this knowledge to give you a leg up in any sort of competition, says Beilock, author of the upcoming book "Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To."

If you can, she says, go first, "especially if your opponent has to wait around after you go before they can show their stuff."

Have you ever choked? Tell us in the comments.