How to Perform Big in Pressure Moments

Mental game

Do you Contribute to Pressure During Competitions?

It’s interesting to think about how we contribute to pressure. Pressure doesn’t merely exist; it is shaped by our thoughts and feelings about competing in certain situations.

Pressure is a personal experience, and your relationship to pressure impacts your anxiety and performance levels.

What affects your relationship with pressure?

*Belief – If you believe pressure is negative and always hurts performance, then the slightest bit of pressure will tend to freak you out. Have you had a competition when you told yourself in pregame, “I’m so nervous,” and then a few minutes into the competition, you were a total wreck?

In reality, pressure is what you make of it. Pressure can lift your game by energizing you mentally and physically to perform at your peak. If you maintain a neutral belief about pressure, the level of nervousness you feel will be manageable and even beneficial.

*Perspective – Pressure is a matter of perspective. When you over-value the significance of a game, you increase the pressure factor. For instance, you build more pressure if you label a game as a ‘must win’ game. From the first minute of the competition, you will think, “I can’t make any mistakes, or I will lose.” Fearful thoughts breed anxiety.

Putting a competition into perspective reels in anxiety, “It may be a playoff game, but it is still just a game. If I focus on my plan, I will put myself in a good position.”

*Reactions – How you physically and mentally react to pressure also affects the level of pressure you experience. When some athletes notice their hearts beating more rapidly, they panic, “My heart is pounding. There is no way I will play well under these circumstances.”

Alternatively, you can prevent the “panic” by recognizing an increased heart rate is an essential element to perform at your peak. In addition, if you are proficient in relaxation strategies, you will feel more in control and confident to calm yourself in these competitive situations.

When you change your relationship with pressure, you will change how you respond under pressure.

The Seattle Seahawks entered the final game of the 2022-23 NFL season needing a win to advance to the playoffs. 

Despite throwing two bad interceptions earlier in the game, Seattle quarterback Geno Smith rallied the offense and forced the game into overtime. 

In overtime, Smith threw a clutch 17-yard pass to teammate Tyler Lockett to set up a successful field goal attempt that gave the Seahawks a 19-16 victory and a spot in the playoffs.

Seattle wide receiver Tyler Lockett commented on Geno Smith’s ability to put the game in perspective and perform big in the big moments.

LOCKETT: “[Smith] reminded us when we were in the huddle, ‘Hey, just calm down. It’s just football.’ Geno just showed us who he’s always been. He’s a gamer. Even when it’s all on the line, he’s going to go out there still be poised, still going to play. It’s hard, especially when you go out there and things don’t go your way early on. We had picks and stuff like that, but to show the fight and how you respond, that’s what you want in a player.”

Just like smith, a shift in perspective will dramatically change your relationship with pressure and how you perform in future competitions.

If you tend to become overwhelmed in competition, it is worth looking at how you interpret pressure.

Start by asking yourself three basic questions:

  1. Is pressure good or bad?
  2. What do I do that creates more anxiety during competition?
  3. What can I change so I can perform better in bigger moments?

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