?Pressure isn?t having to make the putt to win a big money tournament. It is having to make the shot when you?ve got $20 on the match? and only $5 in your pocket? (Lee Trevino). In the realm of elite sport, ?performing under pressure? has been denoted as an essential element in achieving athletic success. As many elite performers can attest, being able to ?handle the pressure? has been a definitive factor in the selection of athletes to Professional or National teams. Thus, it is valuable to obtain some strategies for how to manage pressure in the competitive environment.
Pressure is the feeling of dis-ease that is linked with an intense desire to be or do something more. It is about wanting to make something happen without the certainty of the outcome. It may involve trying to meet the expectations of others, or simply struggling to avoid fear, disappointment and devaluation that can be linked with failure (Miller, 1992). The effects of increase stress or pressure can have quite a negative impact on performance. It may cause an athlete to tense up and move out of the present to worry about the past and future. The thinking can shift from positive/creative to fearful/ defensive, which has implications for performance. In order for an athlete to perform to their potential they need to be fully connected to the task at hand. There is absolutely no room for doubts, fears or lack of belief.
As suggested in the opening quote, the amount of dis-ease felt is impacted by what is on the line. This is also greatly influenced by individual perceptions, as how one views the situation will have implications for the amount of pressure experienced. For example, imagine that you have been instructed to walk across a plank that is 10 metres long and 1 meter wide. This plank is on the ground and all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other to get across. Now imagine that this exact same plank has been moved between two 6-story buildings. It may now look a little bit different, but it is still the exact same plank, and you have to do the exact same thing to get across. There may be additional distractions that should not be dismissed such as wind factor, fear of heights and the fact that consequence for failing is also much greater. The point here is that you still need to put one foot in front of the other in order to get across, which in essence is the same thing in sport. Whether you are playing hockey at a domestic tournament or you are representing your country at the Olympic games, you still need to be able to trap, pass and shoot the ball. The distinction comes with the different perceptions associated with the event, thus increasing the distraction factor. It is paramount to have techniques and strategies in place to deal with elements that could potentially interfere with performance. One such strategy is to ensure that you take care of all the 4 P?s of performing under pressure, which include: preparing, planning, perspective, and em-Powering.
Preparation is a critical component that helps to enhance trust, confidence and readiness in performance. Adequate preparation is needed in all areas of athletic performance such as technical, tactical, mental and the physical parts of sport. It is not something you can cram for! It is important to look ahead to the competition day and ask yourself what?s it going to take to achieve your goals, and are you preparing for those things at the present moment. One of Canada?s top astronauts, Chris Hatfield, suggested that the most important part about the mission is in the quality of preparation. The astronauts are selected 3 years prior to a mission and spend many long hours trying to execute and simulate things flawlessly. He mentioned that it is critical to get things perfected in the preparation phase and to treat the training as if it was the mission. They are very disciplined about quality training for if they are not prepared for space the outcome could be fatal. In sport we always hear about getting up for the big game. In actuality it should be quite the contrary. If you are disciplined and extend your limits in the preparation phase the competition should always be at a manageable level. Be sure to outline what needs to be accomplished by going through the goal-setting process. It is as equally important to evaluate your goals to ensure that you are on the right track.
Have you ever had a brilliant performance? Have you ever had a somewhat less than magnificent performance? Have these two things ever happened in the same month, the same week, or even the same day? The likelihood of this happening to an athlete at least once in their career is quite high. It is important to keep in mind that it is not the skill that you lose, but rather the focus needed in order to produce that skill. This is why it is imperative that athletes establish focus and refocusing plans to ensure that the mind is connected to task relevant information.
Establishing focus plans are as easy as your ABC?s. The first thing that needs to be determined are the elements required for you to produce your top game. It is important to think on all levels (technical, tactical, mental and physical), and to have a cue word to remind you of this action. For example, an important element in field hockey could be tight ball control, and the cue word to remind you of this action may be ?tight? or ?glue?. The cue word is based on individual preference, but has to hold some personal meaning to the individual athlete so the desired action can be produced.
Dr. John Hogg (an experienced sport psychologist in Canada) came up with a very simple equation for performance, which is P = C- I. That is, ones performance is equal to their capabilities ? the interferences. It is important to reinforce the qualities you have, but also be aware of (and plan for) the interferences that can potentially get in the way of optimal focus. Keep track of the things that you know get you off of your game, and come up with a plan for how you will deal with them in the future. It is much easier to make decisions when things are moving slower. Since decision making time in sport is so small it is valuable to plan for the things that you know can be potential distractions ahead of time.
A great thing about sport is it allows us to care passionately about something that really doesn?t matter. To help alleviate some of the pressures faced in sport it is important to remember the big picture, and the fact that it is just a game. Sure it is a game that millions of people put a ton of time, energy and passions into, but it is not a cure for cancer or a magic potion that will eliminate world hunger. It is paramount to keep the intensity and passion for the game, but a dose of perspective can help to bring the ?plank? down to the ground level. An example to help illustrate this point was at the Jr. World Cup Qualifier when the Canadian women?s team was getting ready for a very important qualifying match. A lot of the players looked tense in the warm-up so in the team huddle before the game the captain got everyone in and said ?no matter what happens, 1 billion people will still be going to work tomorrow?. Amongst the laughter came a sense of perspective, and the team was now more loose, relaxed and ready to play.
When the pressure is mounting it is valuable to search for opportunities to gain perspective. There are a lot of elite athletes who take a few moments out of their busy training week to do some volunteer work (such as at sport camps or children?s hospitals). Perspective can also be gained taking the time to remind yourself of what is the most important thing in the world to you. At times you may think it is your sport, but more often than not it involves things related to your friends and family. Keep your passion, intensity and energy for sport, but remind yourself of the big picture when the pressure seems to be overwhelming.
Trust, belief and confidence are critical factors needed for top performance. An elite performer needs to be totally connected to their performance, in the moment, and in the now. Fears and doubts interfere with optimal focus, thus it is essential to reinforce your confidence and belief in yourself. It is also a known fact that when under stress the body reacts in both a physical and a cognitive manner. Many athletes have experienced the butterflies in the stomach, or the sweaty palms that come with the physical reaction. From a cognitive standpoint an athlete may experience self-defeating or irrational thoughts. When these things occur one needs to see it as a sign of readiness, but also have a plan in place to reinforce the confidence to the level needed for performance.
Just like a technical skill, confidence and belief need to be worked on and continually reinforced. One way to do this is to create a ?why you rock? poster. Write down all of your strengths, qualities and attributes that make you the successful athlete that you are. It is also important to remind yourself of all of your past experiences that have prepared you for the upcoming moment. These include things such as the many years of playing your sport, in addition to the major events and all the high-pressure situations that you have played in. Another thing that you may want to highlight is any other stressful events in your life that you have persisted through. This event may not be in the context of sport, but the same emotions and feelings are experienced in any high-pressure situations. If you are a visual learner it may be a great idea to create a video. This video could be comprised of highlights from your sporting career, and/or clips of other athletes or motivational movies that empower you. Since trust and belief are so critical to your performance it is necessary to reinforce your strengths on a continual basis. As you are brushing your teeth everyday tell yourself ?why you rock?!
Handling the pressure is an important component to achieving athletics success. Individual perceptions can have an impact on the amount of dis-ease that is felt with each situation. Since high-pressure situations are quite common in sport it is important to have techniques and strategies in place to manage it. Enjoy the challenge brought to you in sport. Remember, if competing at a high level was easy everybody would be doing it! Key points for the ?4-P?s? include the following:
· Think to the end of the year and identify all of the critical success factor that will enable you to achieve your goals.
· Include all the elements of excellence into your yearly training program
- Remember that you only have one chance to make the most out of each workout!
· Identify what focus is needed for top performance?be specific!
· Performance = Capabilities ? Interferences?.
- Plan for distraction when the mind is calm and can make good decisions
· Be passionate, but remember it is just a game
· Search out opportunities to gain perspective
- Remind yourself of what is the most important thing in the world to you
· Fear and doubt get in the way of optimal performance
· Create a list of all your strengths and capabilities
· Reinforce the reason ?why you rock!? on a continual basis
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