How to Perform Your Best in Pressure Situations During Games

Do you struggle to perform your best under pressure? Learn a simple sport psychology strategy you can use to perform your best under pressure in sports.

Pressure can cause you to underperform as an athlete. But it can also lead to you being more focused and having more motivation to compete at your best. So it’s important for you to know the difference.

What we’re going to do in this article is talk about how pressure can help you, how it may hurt you, and a strategy you can use to perform better in pressure-filled situations during games.

But first, let’s take a look at what pressure is, anyway.

What is a Pressure Situation in Sports?

When I say pressure, what comes to mind? Are there certain situations you think about? Moments during a game where your heart races a little bit more than usual and you feel like the weight of your entire team is resting on your shoulders?

This is situational pressure. There is also the overall pressure you put on yourself to be the best you can be or reach a certain level, but we’re only focusing on specific situational pressure right now.

We typically see this type of pressure during crunch time moments in games. It may be when you’re on the free throw line late in the game and your team is down by one. Or it may be when you’re on the mound with two balls on the hitter and the winning run on third.

The situation in which you feel the most pressure will vary depending on the sport you play, your position, and who you are. But no matter what the situation is, the reason you feel pressure is the same.

You feel pressure in that moment because you see that play, pitch, or shot as the most important one. And you probably feel like the outcome will determine whether you win or lose…and you may be right.

How Pressure Can HELP You as an Athlete

When you find yourself in these situations where you’re feeling pressure, it’s important that you’re fully focused. You want to be sure you aren’t thinking about anything else but making that shot, getting this hit, or winning this next point.

That’s where pressure can help you.

If you feel that normal feeling of pressure, it can be used as a way to tell yourself to get extra focused for this next play. That can lead to you giving it more attention, and as a result, more energy and effort.

Pressure can also help you if you see yourself as a player who performs well under pressure. Let’s say you’ve had a strong track record of feeling pressure and rising to the occasion…don’t you think you’re going to feel more confident the next time?

You may also love that feeling of having the chance to win it for your team. In that case, the excitement you feel can also help you perform better in that moment.

However, just as pressure can help you, it can also hurt you.

How Pressure Can HURT You as an Athlete

This happens mostly because you grow anxious or fearful because of the fact that this situation seems more important and may be the reason you win or lose.

In normal situations, you may be focused more on simply playing and performing your skills. Now all of a sudden, you’re thinking about the outcome and how perfectly you have to play.

When you worry too much about the outcome, that causes anxiety and fear. As you feel anxious or fearful, you can then tense up or try too hard to be perfect.

Now, instead of being more focused because of the pressure, you’re actually less focused on what you’re doing because you’re more focused on the outcome. You may be thinking about the play being over before you’ve even allowed yourself to perform.

Another thing that can happen is you try too hard. Trying too hard results in forcing an outcome. And when you force, you don’t perform as freely and naturally. Therefore, you may be too tight and not as quick or smooth with your movements.

All of this can lead to you performing worse in that situation because of the pressure you feel.

Strategy to Perform Better in Pressure Situations During Games

If you feel like you don’t perform your best under pressure, then you need to apply a sport psychology strategy to help you.

When I work with athletes, one of the main things we’ll focus on is performing better under pressure. And to perform better under pressure, we always create a strategy for them to follow. That strategy unlocks their full potential in those moments.

The aim of this strategy is to keep things simple. When you’re feeling a lot of pressure the simpler you can keep your approach, the better. You’re already feeling like it’s a more important moment, so you don’t want to make things even more complicated or stressful for yourself.

So with this strategy, our aim is to simplify and help you approach that situation much like you do other situations. Because if you don’t perform well under pressure, we want to take your attention off the pressure as much as possible.

Simplifying Your Game

What you want to do is think about how you perform during other times of the game. To help, ask yourself these questions…

  • What am I focused on?
  • What am I thinking about?
  • How do I feel when I play?

And remember, you’re answering these questions thinking about how you normally play during games. Not how you are in pressure situations.

The reason you want to answer these questions is because when you’re feeling a lot of pressure during a game, one of the best things you can do is approach that situation just like you do any other time during the game.

Let’s use an example of a basketball player shooting a free throw late in the game. Early in the game she is focused on her pre shot routine and her follow through. She is thinking some positive self-talk statements, and she feels nice and relaxed.

When she’s feeling a lot of pressure (so maybe it’s late in the game and they’re down by a point) she is focused on making the basket, is thinking about what will happen if she misses, and feels very tight and nervous.

Do you see how different she is approaching each situation? The action is the same (shooting the free throw) but her reaction is causing her to think and feel differently.

Her goal should be to think and feel in a similar way to how she does normally in a game whenever she’s feeling pressure. The same is true for yourself. You want to approach a pressure situation in the same way you do other situations. That way, you reduce the pressure you feel.

Here are a few tips you can use to help yourself do so…

  • Set a clear objective for the game. Then focus on that objective when you feel pressure.
  • Use positive self-talk in pressure-filled situations.
  • Be sure to take deep breaths when you are feeling pressure to calm yourself down.
  • Use the same routine you always do and try to approach the pressure-filled situation the same as you do any other moment during the game.

Final Thoughts

Pressure can either help or hurt you as an athlete. And it’s important to know which is true for you.

When you’re in a pressure situation during a game, do you focus more, feel more confident, and get more excited to perform?

Or do you worry about what will happen if you mess up, get anxious and tense, and try to force the outcome?

If you find that pressure situations tend to hurt you as a player, that’s okay, but now it’s time to apply a strategy to help. What you want to do is approach that pressure situation in a similar way you do other moments during the game.

That way, you keep yourself focused on you performing and you take your attention off the outcome.

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

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

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.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

Recent Articles
Follow Us

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!