Dealing with Pressure: level 1 Introduction
Welcome to the programme about pressure, and first of a series of modules which will help you learn to deal with pressure.
Pressure’s very much a part of sport;
whether you’re an under 11 soccer player trying to get a game in an academy team or a multi-million pound player in a professional team, at some time or other you will feel the pressure.
Many athletes – and even whole teams – tell me they often under-perform in competitive environments because the pressure of the situation gets to them
But you can develop strategies for dealing with those high-pressure situations.
In this programme, we’ll explore the concept of pressure in sport –
we look at what it is, where it comes from and crucially, how you can deal with it.
By the end of this programme, you’ll have a much better idea of the underlying principles of dealing with pressure.
You’ll be able to identify pressure situations and – rather than melt under the challenge – you’ll actually start to enjoy the experience.
We’ll explore the triggers that can plant seeds of doubt in your mind and give you skills and strategies around how best to deal with them
So, what is pressure and where does it come from?
Pressure is a very individual thing, and it’s generally a negative feeling associated with anxiety, and the perception of pressure can change over time.
I say ‘perception’ because – as you’ll see through the course of this programme – pressure comes from the meaning you give something, so your thoughts and subsequently the pressure, can be real or imagined.
Because pressure has to do with the meaning you attach to something, at its root it always comes from you.
If you allow yourself to be overcome by the magnitude of the situation, well-learned skills can collapse.
Take the experienced soccer player in a penalty shoot-out as a perfect example – how many times have you seen a seasoned professional make a complete hash of that crucial kick?
But, if you allow the skills to flow in a natural way you maintain a fighting chance of a successful outcome.
As I write this module, the England Football team who qualified for the European Championships in France and entered with high hopes, went crashing out at first knock out stage against the unfancied Iceland team – no one expected it and the England manager Roy Hodgson resigned within minutes of the humiliating defeat. –
Why did England lose – unanimously, it was suggested that the players couldn’t cope with the pressure, particularly after going behind midway through the first half.
Pressure, is a perception of the athlete and how he or she views the situation that can determine the outcome.
If a point guard is faced with the demand to score a three-point basket in the dying seconds of a basketball match, he might freeze, make the wrong decision and have the ball snatched away from him by an opposing forward –
or he might take one look at the basket, set himself and allow a skill that he’s practiced a thousand times to flow naturally.
Clearly it’s the second scenario that brings about the most desirable outcome.
Different people will approach similar situations with entirely different mind-sets.
What might feel like a pressured situation for one person will be no big deal, or even an exciting opportunity, for another.
By the end of this programme, my aim is for you to be more like that second person –
You grasp pressure situations – and with the skills you’ll learn you’ll start to navigate them much, much better.
Take, as another example, the two elite Jamaican sprinters, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt.
For many years, Powell graced the tracks of the European circuit and blew away all challengers.
However, he couldn’t recreate the dominance he exuded on the European circuit in major events such as the World Championships and Olympic Games.
With a seemingly carefree attitude and a certain joie de vivre Powell’s training partner, Usain Bolt would take the spoils at major Championships.
It seemed that Powell couldn’t carry over his superiority in training, and at lower-profile events; in short, he was a choker.
What Powell perceived as a high-pressure situation, Bolt perceived as an exciting challenge, and this excitement fired him to excel in the big arena.
Think about a time you felt you were in a pressurised situation.
Now look back and imagine you were excited about that event instead.
What difference would that have made to your approach and enjoyment?
The perception of pressure can even vary within the same individual –
what was once perceived as an exciting opportunity, might, on a different occasion, be seen as highly-pressured and vice versa
For example, you might find that going into a competitive situation with a slight injury, and the resulting feeling that there’s little expectation of you doing well, you may end up producing an unexpectedly very good performance.
I’ve seen this many times with clients who, because they were focused on the injury rather than the occasion, ended up with some exceptional results.
The change from excited anticipation to feeling pressured is particularly seen when an athlete or a team carries high levels of expectation, as with the example fo the England football team.
Such expectations can come from within yourself, but can also be placed by the media, fans, a manager or coach, even teammates or friends and family.
Often, it’s a combination, which is why nowadays, so many elite athletes have a close-knit support group of trusted people around them helping to protect them from unwanted messages, or to help them rationalise unhelpful thoughts.
Inappropriate or misplaced comments from well-meaning friends and family can also trigger a stream of irrational thoughts that can turn a run of the mill event into a huge cause for concern.
Take for example a tennis parent, who makes a last-minute comment to her child along the lines of –
“Don’t worry darling, you should win this easily’
This can lead to a flood of self-doubt when the child loses serve in the first game, which in turn can lead to all sorts of inappropriate and unhelpful thoughts –
along the lines of
“I should beat him…mum said so…she’ll be so disappointed…” and so on
The key in such situations is not to place undue pressure on yourself or those around you, but to maintain a focus on the skills that govern your performance and your plan of action.
Ruminating on what somebody may have said or on an unwanted thought can detract from the mental effort that’s required to succeed in your sport.
If you feel such negative thoughts entering your mind you might use one strategy successfully employed by some athletes –
imagine a big STOP! sign and use this as a cue to clear your mind
If you find that difficult, you might think about it as if you’ve only got a limited amount of mental energy and you have to choose where that goes –
do you want to spend it on your plans, strategies and what you can do to give you the best chance of winning – a sensible choice-
or do you want to spend it on thinking about things that might not be useful, what people might think, other consequences and so on – not such a sensible choice.
Throughout the Mynd app, you’ll get loads of tips on how you’ll be able to train yourself to make better choices;
You’ll learn the strategies that have worked with many highly successful medal winners and Premier League soccer players and teams.
Most athletes who compete at an elite level would, at some point, have had to develop effective coping skills and strategies to deal with pressure situations, just to compete at that level.
I always admire young soccer players who manage to progress through the annual selection process at their clubs.
This process can be brutal as these young players face not only competition from other players who want their place just as much, but changes in coaches and managers who might not have the same faith or belief in them as their previous coach.
The deeper understanding of pressure that you’ll develop as you move through this programme will prepare you much better for all types of challenges in your career.
The ability to handle and deal with pressure is a central factor in differentiating between winners, who tend to reach their targets, from those who come close, but not quite close enough.
In this module we’ve examined the concept of pressure in sport;
what it is and how it might make you feel and behave.
We’ve seen how mismanaging pressure can have a debilitating effect on your mind and body –
and crucially, how it will take your focus off the moment.
It can make you dread competition and can have a detrimental effect on your performance overall.
In the next module
We’ll begin to examine how you might best start to deal with pressure situations.
You Mynd activity:
Think of specific situations or competitions at which you felt severely under pressure.
Then, ask yourself if that was an event or competition at which you truly wanted to compete.
- Was it a good standard competition?
- What did you need to do to get there?
- How did you qualify or get into that situation in the first place?
Then take a deep look at the strengths that helped you reach that level;
the training and preparation you went through,
the many sacrifices you made along the way.
Understand that whatever your level of competition, the fact that you were there, in that pressurised situation, is a strong indicator that you were good enough to be there.
Your place was earned.
Above all, as a sportsperson, or any type of performer, start to think of pressure as your friend. As you’ll see through the course of this programme, it can be.
You just need to learn how to manage it.