Athlete Mental Training Articles

Try These Tips To Perform Well Under Pressure

Eli Straw
Try These Tips To Perform Well Under Pressure

When it comes to sports and life, there’s no avoiding pressure. Well, there is, but this means you aren’t ever putting yourself in a position to grow, improve, or reach the goals you desire. So I guess a better way to put it is, if you desire success in any form, pressure can be expected.

With athletics, pressure typically comes down to specific moments during a game. For example, a golfer steps up to a put that she needs to sink to win the match. If she misses this put, then her opponent will go home with the victory.

Another example is a football team down by three points. There’s one minute left on the clock and they have the ball on their own thirty yard line.

In this scenario, not only is the offense feeling a lot of pressure to score, but the defense is feeling an equal amount of pressure to prevent them from scoring.

But pressure is not always limited to specific moments during a game. An athlete may feel pressure to reach a certain level or get a certain stat line by the end of the season. In the same fashion, outside of sports pressure is felt in many different situations.

Understanding the common occurrence of pressure, what kind of actions can you take to ensure that you will perform well under pressure?

There are many different ways you can work to perform better under pressure, with the first one having to do with the way you view pressure in the first place.

1.) Change How You View Pressure

What is pressure? What does it look, smell, and feel like? What may come to your mind when asked a question like this is a situation in which you feel pressure. But I’m not talking about the environment, I’m talking about the actual thing which is pressure.

The most interesting aspect of pressure is that, in reality, it’s not real. Of course, the anxiety and fear we experience in moments are one-hundred percent real, but pressure is not. Pressure is merely a perception.

When you feel pressure, the reason it’s being experienced is because you’ve identified the situation as being more important than any other.

Going off the example from the introduction, what’s different between the put being taken by the golfer and any other ones she taken in the match? Nothing, except for the fact it’s her last put. The act of putting is still the same.

The same holds true for the football team. Throughout that entire game, both teams have had many different drives. Yet, this last one holds more weight due to the fact that it will determine the winner.

While yes, the final moments of a game will determine the outcome. But, so have all the other moments leading up to that point. By placing more weight on these situations, you’re experiencing pressure and all the nerves and fear that follow.

This leads to you tensing up and trying too hard to be perfect. If you want to perform better under pressure, change your perception and treat these moments just like any other time during the game.

"When you feel pressure, the reason it’s being experienced is because you’ve identified the situation as being more important than any other."

2.) Let Go Of The Outcome

Along the lines of the previous tip, a lot of times pressure has a negative impact on your performance due to you worrying too much about the outcome.

Whether you’re experiencing pressure during a game or in any other aspect of your life, this feeling thrives off outcome-oriented thinking. This form of thought involves your mind being fixated on the future.

Outcome-oriented thinking takes on many different forms, depending on the end result you’re worried about. You may be concerned about the score of a game, what your stats will look like, what others will think of you, or even goals you’ve set.

All of this, while natural to think about, will only distract you and result in feelings of anxiety. The reason athletes develop performance anxiety in the first place has to do with worrying too much about what may or may not happen.

To put it plainly, performance anxiety is caused by outcome-oriented thinking.

In order to perform well under pressure, you must let go of the outcome. Stop worrying so much about whatever result you’re concerned about. Instead, shift your focus onto the process.

Opposite of outcome-oriented thinking is being process oriented. This means you are giving your attention to the present moment. Focusing on each task that will ultimately lead to the outcome.

Through letting go of the outcome and turning to the process, you will not only be reducing unneeded stress and worry, but actually increasing the energy you’re giving to the actions that lead to the result you want.

In doing so, you strengthen your ability to perform well under pressure.

3.) Focus On Your Breath

When it comes to letting go of the outcome and turning your attention onto the process, as discussed in the previous tip, sometimes this is much easier said than done.

Right now, you can easily understand how much better you’d perform when under pressure if you simply let go of the outcome. However, what do you think will happen when you once again find yourself in the midst of pressure?

Do you think you’ll be able to actually let go of the outcome? No, probably not. The desire to control the outcome is too powerful to simply brush the thoughts aside. And the more you try to force them out of your mind in these moments, the more difficult it becomes.

What you can do, to make the process easier, is harness your breath to center your attention and bring your mind into the present moment.

Your breath is incredibly powerful and a valuable asset when you learn how to control it. When you’re in the midst of pressure, try turning your attention onto your breath. Work to take slow, controlled breaths, really focusing on the air entering and leaving your body.

As you do so, not only will your attention be controlled, but your mind and body will relax. This allows for more effortless and natural action. Through focusing on your breath, you reduce fear and anxiety and place yourself in a position to perform well under pressure.

"When you’re in the midst of pressure, try turning your attention onto your breath. Work to take slow, controlled breaths, really focusing on the air entering and leaving your body."

4.) Develop A Specific Mantra

In times of pressure, have you ever paid attention to what you’re saying to yourself? What kind of thoughts are filling your mind?

If you haven’t spent much time thinking about it, let’s take some time right now to do so. Think back to a situation where you felt a tremendous amount of pressure. Was your mind full of positive or negative thoughts?

For example, were you thinking thoughts such as:

  • “I got this.”
  • “I know we’re going to win.”
  • “This is my chance.”
  • “I know I can do it.”

Or, were you thinking more negative and worrisome thoughts such as:

  • “I hope I don’t choke.”
  • “There’s no way we can win.”
  • “I’m never going to get this done in time.”
  • “I can’t screw this up again.”

Thoughts are powerful. They determine your focus and emotional state. So when you find yourself feeling a lot of pressure, you must turn to your mind to see what kinds of thoughts are present.

Knowing the power of thought, you can craft a mantra (or statement) you will repeat to yourself whenever you feel pressure. Your statement should be personal and really resonate with you. Here are a few examples you can use to help craft your own:

  • “This is just like every other moment.”
  • “Relax and have fun.”
  • “Focus. Be present.”
  • “I am confident and know I will succeed.”
  • “It’s not that serious. Enjoy yourself.”

Once you’ve outlined your own statement, all you need to do is turn shuffle on and have it repeat within your mind in moments when you are feeling pressure. By doing so, this will help you perform well under pressure.

5.) Develop Routines

There’s a reason people develop daily routines and great athletes have pregame routines and even certain routines within a game. Routines equal consistency and consistency is what leads to success over the long term.

For athletes, pregame routines work to get you into a consistent mindset before a game. The mental state you are striving for is known as your peak performance mindset. But apart from being consistent over a long period of time, how does a routine help you in a given moment?

As you find yourself in a pressure filled environment, one of the major ways this will lead to you performing poorly is if you feel uncomfortable or see the situation as unfamiliar. While the pressure you feel may be different, the actions are the same.

Using routines to help with pressure is all about working to get yourself to where you’re feeling comfortable and in a familiar state.

A great example is a baseball player who has a specific routine he goes through before each at bat. This routine for him begins when he’s in the dugout, continues when he’s in the on deck circle, and completes with him stepping into the batter’s box.

Every at bat he goes through this same routine. That way, each time he goes up to hit, his mind is in a familiar state and he grounds himself in his routine.

Now, imagine he’s about to hit in the bottom of the ninth inning, there is a runner on third and his team is down by one run. The situation has changed, but the act of going up to bat is the same. So, he once again runs through his routine.

No matter what the outcome ends up being, he is putting himself in a better position to perform well under pressure. Since he’s approaching the at bat just as he does all the rest. That is what a routine provides you with.

For yourself, think about what routines you can put in place to ensure you are approaching pressure filled situations the same as any other moment. That kind of consistency is what will lead to you performing well under pressure.

"Using routines to help with pressure is all about working to get yourself to where you’re feeling comfortable and in a familiar state."

Final Thoughts

As you work towards your goals, pressure will surely find you.

Maybe it’s during a certain moment in a game, or the pressure you feel placed upon you by yourself or others as to the level of success you should achieve. No matter what situation in which you feel pressure, you need to work to manage the pressure.

To perform well under pressure remember these five tips: change how you view pressure, let go of the outcome, focus on your breath, make use of a mantra, and develop routines.

By making use of these tips, you put yourself in a great position to succeed, no matter what type of pressure you feel.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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