Thriving Under Pressure
““I want to see how far I can go, I want to see what I can accomplish, I want to see what I can
do, what I can be, what I can have. I want to see. I don’t want to see what I think I can do, I
don’t want to see what I think is possible, I want to see what my life would look like if I didn’t
count the cards, and if I was willing to go further than anyone else is willing to do if I had the
mentality, so I woke up, and here I am.”
The way athletes deal with pressure is the key to using pressure situations positively. Learning to
respond well in a pressure situation will be an invaluable tool for athletes. The most important
concept in dealing with pressure is to start with the realization that there is no such thing as
competition pressure, except what you make of it in your mind. Pressure isn’t something that
happens to us, it is something that is manufactured by our own thinking. Aside from the physical
pressure exerted on one opponent by another on the court, pressure in the competitive context
isn’t real, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have a form, a color, a smell. Pressure is simply how we
perceive the situation we are in. Athletes need to learn this, because once they understand that
pressure is something they create, then they also understand that pressure is; therefore,
something they can control. By controlling their responses to pressure situations, athletes learn to
take them in their stride.
Pressure only exists if you are concerned about the outcome. Playing a scratch match and playing
in the national finals are exactly the same thing! It’s still the same ball, the same strategies, the
same rules, nothing has changed in terms of how you play the game. So approach pressure
situations as though they are practice matches. Train your mind to stay in the present and let the
outcome take care of itself. Learn to practice at the same level you compete at. Your best
possible match play can only ever be as good as your best possible training performance. People
labor under the illusion that all those little successful moments in training will somehow combine
together on match day to bring about higher levels of performance. This just isn’t true, so learn
to train as you mean to play.
You must practice pressure situations in training, so they become normal and easy to handle.
Ensure you have good preparation leading up to competition. Pressure situations require
enhanced communication; practice this in training. Never, ever give in. Learn to maintain
commitment and desire in the face of adversity. Learn to focus on the right thing at the right
time, regardless of what is going on around you. Often athletes and coaches rush things when
they are under pressure. This detracts from performance, communication, vision, and enjoyment.
Slow down. Even though you may feel under time constraints, it’s better to slow down and get it
right than to rush it and make an error.
Some people will benefit from engaging in some relaxation exercises prior to competing,
to help them feel calm and focused. Practice mindfulness; no negative thoughts. Positive
thinking will give you that much needed performance boost on game day. Share how you feel
with others. Talking about how you feel can help you to deal with it. However be mindful of
who you choose to talk to, you don’t want to put ideas of pressure into your teammates’ heads!
Strive for excellence, not perfection! It is okay to make mistakes under pressure, just as it is
alright to make mistakes in training. Long as you recover well and learn from those mistakes.
Focus on technique or strategy. Pay attention to the things you have practiced, they are familiar
so they won’t feel pressured. Have good error recovery strategies, people tend to make more
errors when they perceive they are under pressure, so you need to have a good strategy to deal...
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