Does Pressure Affect Your Performance During Competitions?

Dismantle Pressure

What Is Pressure?

The term “pressure” dominates the headlines of sporting events.

Athletes often report feeling so much pressure during major competitions that they find it difficult to perform when it matters most.

If pressure has such an impact on performance, ignoring its presence will only feed it.

By understanding the process of pressure, you can better prepared and equipped to perform in critical moments of competitions.

So what exactly is pressure? How is pressure created? What can athletes do to better perform under pressure?

What is pressure?

Pressure usually refers to the feelings an athlete has about performing in a sporting situation. For example, “I get so anxious when I have to serve for the match” or “I can’t seem to concentrate when the game is on the line.”

Pressure manifests itself physically (increased adrenaline, breathing, heart rate, etc), mentally (positive or negative thoughts about the event) and emotionally (positive feelings of anticipation, excitement or negative feelings of fear, anxiety).

How is pressure created?

The sporting event contains no pressure in and of itself. This is important… there is zero pressure in a sporting event.

Pressure is an internal experience (a feeling) that is created by the athlete.

Pressure is created by how you perceive a particular athletic event.

How you view an athletic event will determine your internal response. (Do you see the situation as a challenge or threat?) Ultimately, your perception of the event will determine how you perform.

Former Los Angeles Dodger manager provided this insight to pressure: “Pressure is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.”

When you fear what might happen or focus on the outcome, you worry about meeting your or others’ expectations. This translates into a tentative and controlled performance making it hard to take risks.

What can athletes do to better perform under pressure?

First, you need to understand that you create “pressure” for yourself. If you created pressure, then you can dismantle it.

Stay focused on the process. Ask yourself what is your job right now:

  • Is it to win the game or take the shot?
  • Is it to win the gold medal or perform the routine?

Then focus on exactly what you need to do in that moment.

You also want to understand the expectations you feel to perform well or win–from yourself and others:

  • Are you afraid of not performing up to your own expectations?
  • Are you worried about not meeting others’ expectations?

Remind yourself why you started in your sport in the first place. The sport hasn’t changed at all since your early years of competing. Find your fun!

Try these tips to dismantle pressure:

  • Tip #1: Who do you feel the most expectations to perform well? How valid are these expectations or are they only “in your head”?
  • Tip #2: Identify your job. Anytime you notice your focus drifting, ask yourself, “What is my job right now?” Re-focus on that task!

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~Julia Dreyer, National Champion Equestrian

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“I appreciate the advice to parents as to how to help your child become more mentally resilient to bullying in sports. The specific advice and scenarios are extremely helpful for any child on a team and very helpful in guiding parents, coaches and administrators in how to deal with bullying in sports. I cannot thank you enough for your input, and I am so reassured to know that there are people like you who are writing articles and doing interviews on such timely and important matters.”
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“Dr. Patrick Cohn and Lisa Cohn are to be congratulated! Together, they offer a wealth of knowledge, information, and practical mental tools for sports parents on the substantial “mental game” challenges and pressures facing today’s young athletes.”
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