Pressure on young successful athletes in elite sport

Pressure in sport – The Mind, a friend or foe.

Sport can put an extraordinary amount of pressure on an athlete. Stress is self-imposed, whereby the athlete puts pressure on themselves to succeed and feels awful if they don’t achieve the level of performance they expect. They can have perfectionist tendencies, whereby almost nothing they do or achieve is quite enough.

Pressure can be externally imposed, from parents and coaches to National Governing Bodies or peers, Add social media to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster, 

Athletes tend to be poor at distinguishing between feeling low and sad to feeling depressed, so they are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves rather than seek help. Seeking help will appear like a weakness and can lead to losing confidence. 

Stress of sport

There are many potential sources of stress in sports, and we cover those elsewhere in these programmes. Many obvious causes will relate to both internal and external pressures. 

Internal pressures

  • Self-imposed expectations
  • Perfectionist tendencies – never good enough
  • Fear of failure
  • A huge desire to win at the expense of doing what you need to do to win
  • Leading to self-handicapping behaviour, excuses and blame

One genuine concern with elite athletes is a fear of injury, which may be there, even in the back of their minds. One bad fall, one lousy injury

I worked with a young Laura Robson when she won Junior Wimbledon; her subsequent career was crippled by injury – an immense talent. Another athlete, England and West Ham United’s Dean Ashton, a huge talent curtailed by an injury when training with the England Squad.

External pressures

  • Expectations of peer group
  • Expectations of parents, coaches and NGBs
  • Expectations of Agents, management and sponsors
  • Social Media
  • The media in general – constant analysis and direction of performance and lifestyle.

Athletes, like anyone in the general population, might be predisposed to suffer more from anxiety and depression, and high-level sport will only compound that condition. 

Team players are less likely to suffer than individual sports performers, but the pressure is not discriminatory – it can affect everyone. 

An athlete’s dilemma

Athletes are both RESILIENT and FRAGILE.

Confidence tends to ebb and flow, particularly with younger athletes, and is primarily related to success. The more you succeed, the more confident you can be – unless you’re just waiting for the bubble to burst.

The extra pressure of SUCCESS


  Train for resilience on court

Develop mental toughness

Deal with internal pressures of playing

Deal with external pressures (minor compared to post-success)

Post success

Avalanche of attention

Media becomes an extraordinary burden

Time pressure

Pressure to keep winning

Constant and incredibly intrusive analysis of everything you do

NAOMI ASAKA – May 2021, withdrew from the French Open

SIMONE BILES in July 221 pulled out of the Olympics

Naomi brought Kobe Bryan into her team – a hugely successful American basketball player who understood the external pressures and maybe even some of the internal issues she would be under 

Athletes train themselves to deal with high-pressure, volatile, competitive situations that many of us would shy away from. They build resilience and mental toughness. But there is little training you can do for the massive wave of expectations that will hit you from every corner if you become successful, particularly at an early age. 

Five years ago, social media was not the thing it is today; Whilst it can open up enormous opportunities for you if used as a marketing tool – look at the way influencers have become part of our lives = there is a double-edged sword – and a dangerous one.

Everyone has an opinion and will let you know about it

The keyboard warriors who hide anonymously or not behind a keyboard and screen can be hurt by their comments,       

Hege time demands on elite athletes – even non-professionals balance school/work and sport

Imagine winning a Slam as a qualifier and becoming the highest paid woman in sport in 2021

What to do

An experienced Team around you

With Andy Murray, I developed Team Murray – which went on to have tremendous success – and that was just from my experience of working football.

An experienced team around you is essential,

Brutal, but someone to tell you the truth sounds easier than it is in practice, 

Working with a young Andy Murray at 21, team members were scared to say something he didn’t like in case he fired them.

Coaches and support need to be Abe it IDENTIFY- UNDERSTAND – RESPOND to early signs of pressure.

They cant get caught up in the occasion

Prevention & developing coping strategies

Prevention is always better than a cure – develop coping strategies

  • Preparation is essential – working on what-if scenarios.
  • Roleplay – 
  • Expect roadblocks and challenges – don’t hide from them.
  • Acceptance is critical – young SOFIA just won the Nationals U10 tennis – parents were concerned with double faults in the match -solution work hard in training and accept what happens on eth court.
  • Effective time management
  • Limiting potential stressors (media engagements, appearances and so on)

Athletes need to be trained psychologically as well as physically. Particularly at the highest level and particularly if young

A holistic and personalised Approach

What do I need personally?

The balance between training and rest/recovery


Keeping thing sin perspective

Every athlete is different; some thrive on pressure – look at some of the biggest names in sport TYSON FIRY, FLOYD MAYWEATHER, RONALDO, MICHEAL JORDAN.

Listen to the interview on BBC