Sunday, 31 August 2014

Excelling Under Pressure – What does it Take?

by: John Ellsworth


I am reminded of my own performances of the past and how being under pressure can cause all sorts of haywire things to happen. The pressure may come from a missed execution, a missed call, an error, or simply not being able to battle through a tough situation in a game or event.


Athletes who perform under pressure usually enjoy the challenge of the situation. I wasn’t all that happy about those nerve wracking sticky game situations For sure, I did not want to fail. As athletes – none of us want to fail. Fear of failure might be a motivator, but it usually leads to avoidance behaviors such as reduced effort, loss of focus, comfort zone performing, high expectations, or perfectionist tendencies.


Excelling under pressure requires several skills:


1. Focus on the task at hand – remain in the present & disconnect from the past & future. The task focused athlete is able to significantly reduce internal and or external distractions. By reducing distractions – the athlete reduces the perception of stress. Less stress – the potential for better performance. Less stress and anxiety – muscles fire and respond with more flexibility.


2. Mental & Physical Relaxation is critical. Your breathing can be your “”silent partner”” and will serve to equally reduce tension, and anxiety, while at the same time sharpen your “”zone””focus skills. Controlled breathing will help with a balanced execution of your pre-game and pre-performance routines. The more you are in control of your breathing the more you will be in control of the fine motor control movements required in execution of a complex skill, like swinging a golf club, or executing a pass in the midfield of a soccer game to set up a shot on goal. Regardless of the skill – being in control of your breathing will help you remain composed in critical situations. For more on the benefits of controlled BREATHING techniques, go to www.protexsports.com sports education.


3. Confidence. Confidence comes from repetitive and successful execution of a task. With confidence you do not think about mechanics or technique. You believe in your ability to execute and your mind knows what to do. When you are confident you also “”trust”” that whatever you do will be the right thing. When you are confident and you trust in the execution you eliminate the the need to overly think or analyze prior to performing the skill.


4. Visualize and Imagine. The more you perform a task – the more comfortable you become with the task. The best place to learn is through physical practice in that sport environment. However, learning has been said to be as equally as helpful when using mental rehearsing techniques like visually rehearsing, or through a process called guided imagery. These techniques are the next best thing to being there. The more “”focused”” practice success – the chances of greater levels of peak performance.


Google's Master Plan

Google’s Master Plan (Photo credit: jurvetson)



5. Practice Planning . An athlete practices to “”per-fect”” skills, and not to be a perfect athlete.


Mentally tough players understand that on the practice field is where preparation begins and ends. During competitive events – thoughts on execution and mechanics typically cause interruptions in peak performance. The confidence and trust develop during the “”per-fecting”” process during practice. Practice routines are designed to: a) Improve confidence, b) Improve focus, c) Focus on the process – not outcomes, d) Simulate game situations, e) Fine tune strengths and work on weaknesses, f) Set process oriented performance objectives, and g) Incorporate High Confidence and Strong Belief Statements about your ability as an athlete. For more on Perfectionism go to www.protexsports.com sports education.


Pressure during competition is not all that much fun if you are not prepared to compete, or prepared to cope with the unforeseen thoughts, and feelings that surface during these challenging times. Proper training, coping tools, and perspective are key to reaching the peak performance you desire.


“”A top athlete has to combine three different factors: physical strength, tactics, and mental toughness. The golden rule is to “”strive”” to never let any of those slip””

Felicia Ballanger – Ten-time cycling Gold Medalist

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