The ability to handle and deal with pressure is the crucial most important factor distinguishing winners from those who run them close”
So what is pressure and where does it come from?
Pressure is generally seen as a negative feeling of anxiety when a task appears too tough to handle. It is a perception on the part of the athlete in terms of the way in which he views the situation. It comes from uncertainty; not knowing how you might cope or not being sure how you will respond in a certain situation. So it is closely associated with uncertainty and doubts on your ability to deal with a situation and the consequent worries on the outcome. Issues might lead to the following self-talk: “I’m the No.1 seed and I’m expected to win”, “I should have no trouble with..” “My ratings /rankings are at stake”, “What will so and so think if I lose?” etc.
The pressure player’s feel at many junior tournaments is obvious; take tennis for example. The constant exclamations from players shouting excuses for everyone to hear (e.g. “How can you hit such a bad shot?!” or words to that effect). Why do they do this? Some players will try and convince that shouting helps to vent their anger, to channel it out rather than keep it in. Not true. Mostly, it is a simple self-esteem / ego issue whereby players are telling everyone who cares to listen that this is not how they ‘normally’ play. Trouble is, much of the time, it is. So players end up giving a running commentary of their errors, telling the world to protect their self-esteem and ego (“I’m not this bad usually….honest” is the message they are offering).
In a way, sport is synonymous with pressure. Competition is about putting obstacles before you and seeing how you cope. The higher the prize the bigger the obstacle, the bigger the potential pressure. Conversely, the bigger the prize – the bigger the enjoyment when you succeed.
Winning big games doesn’t come without pressure. The bigger the game, the more the pressure. Good players deal with it. Great players love it and play better under pressure. In fact, they thrive on pressure – and they train themselves to make sure they perform well under pressure.
Before major competitions or events, players experience a similar psychological build up (in terms of the expectations and media coverage and external expectations). More experienced players interpret this pressure differently; they are generally more excited by it, whilst the less experienced player might find it more stressful.
Handling pressure is a key aspect of elite performance, probably the single most important factor when you are competing at a high level. How you handle ‘pressure’ situations will determine how successful you will be in your sport