Imagine the feeling you would get as an athlete moments before you are about to walk out onto the Olympic Games stage.
Thousands of spectators will be watching your every move…
You have been training hard for the last few months, your skills are looking sharp, you are fit and strong and you’re feeling great.
But just before you step onto the pitch your heart starts pounding, your palms are sweaty and you start feeling nervous and under pressure to perform your best.
You start thinking…
What if all these months and years of training doesn’t pay off and I make a fool of myself?
What if I mess up in front of all these spectators and I let my team and country down?
Ok, maybe you don’t feel that same level of pressure in your weekly club games but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever played an important game, been to trials or taken a penalty in a crucial moment.
Pressure can make you or it can break you
Some players thrive under pressure and outperform even their own expectations, while others seem to fade into the background and underperform.
The difference lies in the person’s mind.
I’m sure you have panicked under pressure before? Maybe you made a bad pass, a mis-timed foul or you missed an easy opportunity?
How about when you lost to a team that you should have beaten?
What about when your team came back from losing to win in the last few minutes?
Being talented doesn’t guarantee success
A lot of players think that being naturally talented is enough, but most young aspiring international players don’t realise that you need more than just natural talent to go further and reach the top level in sport.
I’ve seen very talented players who’ve been successful at junior level but as soon as they start playing at senior level they crumble, hide away or underperform compared to what they’re capable of.
This is commonly known as choking.
It is when you have the ability but you underperform when it matters most.
This also happens when a player steps up to a level that they aren’t used to or when there’s something at stake that they want (i.e. selection into higher team).
The SA cricket team have been called ‘chokers’ as they are yet to make a final of a world cup despite a high world ranking.
Why do we ‘choke’ under pressure?
Pressure comes as a feeling or emotion that stems from our own internal thoughts and personal beliefs. We all have a set of beliefs which forms our perception, so the reason can depend upon person.
When something is important often players will think too much about what they’re doing because they’re worried about making mistakes or experiencing failure, which leads to paralysis by analysis.
This is when we try to control everything to ensure success.
But unfortunately this can backfire and we can get in our own way.
Consistency is key
There are often many players that have the ability to make the top teams. In most cases, it’s the players that are able to perform consistently under various levels of pressure that make the cut.
If you have missed out on a selection before, you may not have been as far away from making the cut as you think.
Next time, you may just need to train your brain and challenge the unconscious beliefs (which most of us are not aware of) that hold us back.
Doing this will help to bring out your best performances more often, meaning there is more chance of being noticed.
Dealing with pressure
Performing under pressure is a skill that CAN be learn’t and developed, just like any physical skills.
And you have to develop this skill if you want to reach higher levels.
Here are a few simple tips to help you get started…
7 Tips For Performing Under Pressure
#1. Challenge your expectations
Sometimes our expectations can weigh us down.
Think about what expectations you have of yourself or that others have of you. For example: I can’t make any mistakes, I must make that team, I should score in every game, etc.
Where do these expectations come from? Is it something someone said or are you being hard on yourself?
Then ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen? You need to develop an action plan of how to deal with each of your expectations.
#2. Focus on the controllables
Make sure you stay focussed on things that you can control. For example you cannot control the weather, the referees decision, who you are playing against, what the opposition do or who is watching.
You can however control putting in 100% effort, making sure you have a good warm up, doing your basics well, communicating with others, etc.
#3. Be prepared
If you know that you’ve done everything you can to prepare then chances of you feeling nervous and under pressure will be much lower.
For example make sure you get enough sleep, eat the right foods, work on your fitness, practice on your own, recovery properly, be on time, etc.
#4. Change your self talk
If you’re feeling nervous then you are probably focussing more on avoiding a negative outcome than achieving a positive outcome.
Try to recognize and catch yourself out when you are thinking negatively and swop it with a positive alternative.
For example if you are worried about not being good enough then challenge yourself to find at least one reason of why you are good enough.
#5. Develop a pre-match routine
Developing a routine can help you to get focussed and ready for games so that you deliver more consistent performances regardless of who you’re playing against.
It may also help to think of a time that you played well and try to remember that situation in as much detail as possible.
Imagine reliving that moment again, playing it in your mind like a movie, bringing in all the senses of what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.
Doing this will put you into that mental state of how you felt then and you’ll probably feel more calm and in control.
#7. Breathing techniques
When you are nervous your heart rate increases. By focussing on your breathing you can slow your heart rate with effective breathing techniques which activates some powerful brain waves.
Bring your attention to your breathe and consciously slow it down by taking a couple of deep breaths. You will soon start to feel more calm.
Bio: After taking a gap year to England, Lauren Penny ended up staying in the UK for 10 years (returning back to Cape Town in 2014). While living in the UK she got selected for the South African National Hockey Team.
She also captained the u19 South African Women’s cricket team in 2005 and was part of the Kent women’s cricket team in England that won the national league for two consecutive seasons (2009-11).
After struggling with various injuries she decided to turn her focus to performance coaching. With over 12 years experience in the field, coaching others to greatness has become her true passion.
Her unique gift is inspiring, motivating and helping others to be more confident, perform under pressure and develop the consistency required to reach higher levels of sport & life.