Do you crumble during crunch time? Would you rather be on the sidelines when the game is on the line?
Time and time again, we hear from athletes who talk about having difficulties competing under pressure. These athletes believe the ability to handle pressure is an inborn trait.
However, there is no such thing as a “clutch” gene. Performing successfully under pressure is a learnable mental skill.
Even if you see yourself as the “nervous” type, you can learn the mental skills of managing nerves, competing with confidence, focusing under pressure, and performing at your peak at critical moments in a competition.
Often athletes brainwash themselves by repeating negative and counter-productive thoughts. Reversing your negative thought trend is the first step in performing positively under pressure.
For example, if you can make a 3-pointer in practice, you can make a 3-pointer late in a game. If you can stick the landing off the balance beam in practice, you can do the same in gymnastics meets. If you can make ten-foot putts regularly in practice, you can sink a ten-foot putt on the 18th hole in a tournament.
If you dedicate time and effort to developing your mental game, you can perform consistently and successfully in competition.
Does that guarantee you will never miss a shot, landing, or putt? No. Perfection is unreasonable. However, solid mental skills dramatically increase your chances for success under pressure.
Athletes who rise to the occasion and athletes who crumble under pressure often have similar physical traits and athletic abilities. However, the difference-maker is an athlete’s mindset.
A negative mindset lays the foundation for fear and anxiety….
Athletes who crumble under pressure:
* Are not ready for the moment
* Have images of missing or failing
* Fear failure and lack confidence in their abilities
* Are not comfortable because they never practice pressure situations
* Remember and relive past failures
* Expect to fail because they failed in the past
* Are distracted by uncontrollable circumstances
A positive mindset sets the tone for success…
Athletes who rise to the occasion:
* Prepare for pressure moments
* Visualize playing at their peak late in competitions
* Look forward to challenges
* Feel comfortable because they practice performing under pressure
* Have a short memory when it comes to misses, mistakes, and losses
* Believe the previous moment does dictate performance in the present
* Focus on what they can control
Take, for example, Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James. In Game 4 of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, James scored with less than 30 seconds in overtime to lead the Lakers to victory.
Throughout his career, James has worked to develop a positive mindset to help him compete under pressure.
JAMES: “These are the moments that I love. I love the postseason. I’ve been a part of a lot of the games, and I just love being able to make plays and be out there with my teammates.”
James doesn’t deny that more is at stake in the playoffs, but he has prepared mentally and physically for those moments.
JAMES: “The closeout game is always the hardest game of the series. It’s the most tiring one. It’s the most brutal one. And we better be ready for it. And I think we’ll be ready for it.”
The key to performing at your peak under pressure is to be ready for the moment by learning mental skills and how to apply those skills in competitive situations.
No magic potion exists for performing well under pressure. Competing at your peak in competition requires the mental skills of confidence, focus, managing emotions, trust in skills and dealing with fear of failure.
To take your practice game to competition with the same focus and freedom requires your trust in your skills. And to do this, you must let go of worry about the outcome and what others think.
Related Sports Psychology Articles
- The Mindset to Perform at a Higher Level
- Having Fun While Performing at Your Best
- The Importance of Mental Toughness
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The Relaxed Athlete
You can possess all the physical talent in the world, the best equipment money can buy, and train harder or longer than anyone else in your sport or on your team, but if self-doubt enters your mind prior to competition, you simply will not realize your true potential in sports.
The Relaxed Athlete” audio and workbook program teaches you mental strategies to develop a focused and confident pregame routine for a poised and relaxed mindset. Learn how to get your mind right by overcoming pregame anxiety and worry.