Emotions play an important role in sports, after all we are driven by our passions. As such, dealing with pressure is a by-product of being an athlete. For better or worse, it’s something you’re going to face in its every form and quite regularly too. From training to competitions, from ourselves and each other; there’s no escaping the demands of being in a pressurised environment.
But the way we initially respond to pressure can affect overall performance, this is why it’s important to learn techniques to deal with pressure.
Whether you’re an individual athlete competing against others in your sport, or part of a bigger team works closely together, learning to stay calm under pressure is a skill that will serve you well.
The power is within us
It’s true that we’re all born with different personalities, and therefore some personalities are better equipped with dealing with stress than others. Nonetheless, sports psychology teaches us that we all have the power to reframe the way we think and put the right measures in place to cope with challenges.
With that in mind, here’s a few tips that we can incorporate into our daily sports routine, and lives, to help us stay calm under pressure:
You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response – this is the physiological reaction when faced with a particularly challenging situation. It suggests that our body reacts in one of two ways – dealing with the threat, or running away from it.
Rather than fearing the situation, running away from it or catastrophising it (thinking of the worst possible outcome), we challenge ourselves to problem solve.
This is a practical solution that channels negative thinking into practical thinking. Instead of believing we’ve faced a blocked wall, we think about ways we can jump over, dig under or knock down that wall.
Remember the highs (and lows)
Committing your thoughts to paper can be a cathartic practice. It’s also a good way of remembering the highs and lows.
As part of their training programme many athletes keep a journal. This can be a helpful way to deal with emotions, as well as track the journey to success, as well as reflect back on the positive thoughts and experiences.
Furthermore, research has found that writing about your feelings can help the brain overcome emotional upset and leave you feeling happier.
It’s worth noting that writing down negative thoughts is no bad thing either, as long as you learn to challenge them.
Learning your personal triggers will help equip you stay calm under pressure. We all have our own individual preferences, with emotional attachments varying from person to person.
Learn what triggers your negative thoughts and make a mental note of these. In doing so, you will be more conscious of your own behaviour in certain situations. The best way to challenge negative thoughts is understanding what causes them.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
By nature, athletes are always striving for perfection in order to achieve excellence. They live in an environment of high pressure with lots of challenges to overcome. It can be all too easy to be hard on yourself with such high expectations to uphold.
One way to cope with pressure is by learning to be compassionate – towards yourself, and others. Learning to forgive yourself is an important lesson to learn. This is not an easy behaviour to put in to practice, but in doing so we learn to accept that failure is normal, that we don’t always win and that most importantly of all – giving our best is the greatest achievement we can hope for.
With the hours and months of dedication that athlete training demands, they can be forgiven for losing perspective occasionally. When every moment of your life builds up to personal performance, it is understandable how this can create a pressurised environment.
Which is why it’s important to keep a healthy perspective.
Putting sport into perspective will help athletes think rationally about it, and not losing sight of their own achievements in the process. It also means being less consumed in thoughts around poor performance and believing that others think less of them.
Sports coaches often encourage athletes to speak to their friends and family openly, to gain a different perspective.
Take a step back
In dealing with pressure, sports coaches often ask an athlete to take a step back. This reflective moment invites athletes to look at the worst and the best that could happen. Think about what is the worst possible outcome and what this means. Likewise give thought to what the best possible result could be and what this might look like.
Evaluating both extremes and giving each the due consideration they deserve is important.
This will help provide some clarity around the answer to the next question ‘What is really the most likely outcome to happen?’ By presenting yourself with this question, you’re forced to gain a more rational perspective.
This rational thinking helps process the challenges with more clarity, helping us to deal with pressure in a logical way.
The ability to stay focused is a technique that will serve you well in any area of life – but especially in sport. During competitions being in the present helps athletes block out negative forces and focus on the here and now.
Global sporting hero Michael Jordan preaches the benefits of remaining focused and has previously said: “I would tell players to relax and never think about what’s at stake… if you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you’ve lost your focus.”
How can you stay calm under pressure?
Keen to unlock your potential as an individual or business?