How Athletes Can Manage Expectations
Pressure is a normal part of sports for athletes. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find athletes not make some type of reference about pressure they felt.
As you become more competitive, pressure seems to increase and, for many athletes, that can be an overwhelming aspect of the athletic experience.
Athletes respond to pressure in different ways. That is, pressure has different sources, is perceived differently, and affects athletes in different ways.
Let’s examine one type of pressure, the pressure to perform when your teammates are heavily relying on you…
This type of pressure can be experienced by one of the more experienced players on the team, an athlete who enters a contest late in the game, or an athlete who just moved into the starting role.
It can also be an athlete anchoring a relay, an athlete who is expected to score high in an event to help out their team, or even a player who is taking the last shot in a game.
For players in these different types of circumstances, they can feel as if they need to carry their teams on their back or outperform previous performances.
Most of this pressure is generated from the perception of excessively high expectations, which take an athlete out of their game.
But guess what? An athlete who feels the weight of excessive expectations and the pressure to perform tries to do too much. This leads to trying to be perfect and avoid mistakes.
Anyway, the pressure to perform can be heightened for athletes in the playoffs…
For example, Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving is considered one of the better players in the NBA and the best player on his team was asked if he felt an extra burden after losing Game 2 in their second-round playoff series to the Milwaukee Bucks,123-102.
Irving responded with a resounding “No!”
IRVING: “There’s no extra burden. This is what I signed up for. This is what Boston traded for me. Being able to go back, get back in the trenches, get ready for another battle on Friday, that’s what you live for. Basketball is fun when it comes like this and you have to respond, and this is the type of basketball you want to be playing this time of year”
Irving, who only scored nine points and had four assists in Game 2, bounced back with 29 points and six assists in Game 3. Interestingly enough, Irving averaged 33 points per game and 6.9 assists during the regular season.
The reason those numbers are important is because it signifies that Irving played within his game and resisted the urge to try to do too much.
Irving had a sound perspective when it comes to this playoff series.
IRVING: “It’s the playoffs. We’re playing against a great team. They’re No. 1 in the Eastern Conference for a reason. They finished the regular season strong, came out and did what they were supposed to do in the playoffs… I’ve been in too many battles going back and forth to get too high or too low… This one would have been great to [win], but we didn’t so now we go back home and reset our mindset going in and just have fun playing the game of basketball. Game 3, I’m looking forward to it.”
But make no mistake about it, you can’t heap expectations upon yourself and perform freely. It’s big ask to think you need to hoist your team on your back and carry them to victory.
Performing under pressure is a matter of staying focused on your game and playing within yourself.
Coping with Pressure When Expectations are High:
Here’s the deal: Performing under pressure requires that you “play within yourself” no matter if it is regular season, playoffs or a championship competition.
In order to cope with perceived pressure, reflect on competitions or games that you performed well and examine the mindset that you carried into that competition.
What were your expectations leading up to that competition? Most of the athletes I coach on the mental game, perform their best when they don’t carry high expectations into the competition.
One key to coping with pressure is to not care about what others think about your game when performing, such as parents, coaches, fans, and friends.
This way you can let go of the expectations you perceive from others and focus on execution of the game plan, one play at a time.
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