We have all felt it at some point, whether it’s in the gym, the workplace, the home…the pressure to be successful is always looming. Pressure, stress and anxiety are all created in the mind. When an athlete can gain control over the thoughts that are creating the perceived pressure, they’ll perform better under pressure. Performance under pressure can brand, break, define and defy an athlete.
If you care about your performance on any level it’s natural to get anxious and feel butterflies. Sometimes pressure is internal as we strive to meet our contrived expectations, sometimes it’s externally placed on us by peers, coaches and family and sometimes it’s completely perceived.
It might be as simple as someone saying “you are going to crush this workout”…suddenly, you feel pressure to crush a workout that just moments ago you were feeling relaxed about.
Every athlete deals with pressure differently, where do you fit?
The Runaway Bride – Just like Julia Roberts, when the pressure is on you hit the road and don’t look back. You hate working under pressure and rather than facing it and thriving, you peace da fuq out. The best way to avoid facing the pressure is definitely to avoid it.
The Murder She Wrote – Like Angela Lansbury on crack, the ‘murder she wrote’ gets fired up on an extreme level. You are too intense for your own good, using speed hands as an accessory to whiz past opponents, stomping around like an animal, making loud noises and double fist pumping for yourself. When the adrenaline wears off the ‘MSW’ will come crashing down with it.
The Tim Tebow – You have had brief moments of greatness. You once took top of the whiteboard and since that day you’ve been nothing but a dud. You forever live in the memory of that one great workout but the pressure was too much and now you sit on the bench beside little Jimmy with the eye patch waiting for your moment. At least God is on your side.
The Anna Kornikova – You look great on the outside, keeping it phresh and calm. Turns out you are nothing more than looks and when push comes to shove your performance under pressure is mediocre at best. Perhaps with a little more preparation in the gym and a little less time spent late night with Enrique Eglasias, you could be a real winner.
The Froning – You are calm, cool, collected and confident. The pressure makes you more focused and despite your chaotic surroundings you will not waiver from the plan. You thrive under all sorts of pressure and you hate losing more than you love winning.
The MJ – “Michael Jordan just has such mental control over the environment of the NBA. It’s his whole domain, and he sits atop it. Not physically, but mentally. A lot of the other players don’t think they can win. What separates Jordan in this all-time pressure pack is his steely-eyed, unrelenting, almost coldblooded dominance in pressure situations.” #Belikemike
So…how do we become ‘The Froning’ or the ‘MJ’ and not one of these other characters???
Step 1 – Be confident. Adrenaline can have multiple effects on performance and if your first thought is, I am gonna bomb this…then you probably are. Anxiety can promote confusion and poor decision making, if you are not confident in your abilities you are likely to make some bad decisions under pressure. Know yourself and your body, be confident in your abilities and thrive under pressure.
Step 2 – Practice under pressure. As much as the Crossfit Open sucks and everyone feels some level of pressure to preform their best, it’s the best way to work on ‘practicing’ under pressure. Even the best athletes can use it as a test for learning how to handle themselves when it counts. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, an elevated heart rate, like caffeine, can help athletic performance when prepared. Being able to turn pressure and nervousness into PR’s is a the mark of a great athlete.
Step 3 – Deep breaths. This may seem obvious, but controlled breathing is a big deal. Under pressure your breath becomes faster and your heart rate increases so that blood and oxygen can get be pumped into your brain. Taking deep, controlled breathes, will help you perform with clarity in those high stress situations. Some people find counting breaths to be a helpful strategy too!
Step 4 – Visualization. Too cool to visualize…don’t be. Great athletes all visualize. You don’t have to sit in a room and meditate to visualize. Before you lift, visualize how you want that lift to look and feel. Visualize your strategy. Visualization goes hand and hand with concentration and years of studies show the affects visualization alone can have on performance.
Step 5 – Find your ‘ideal competitive state’. Everyone is different and thrives under different conditions. Some people get quiet and focused, some people get jacked up, however you need to reach that mental, physical and emotional state that allows you to preform at your best, find it. Understand what works for you and focus on reaching that state in competition.
Step 6 – Get a mantra. Many people have a mantra or a phrase they repeat over and over again. This strategy helps many athletes remain focused, calm and keeps them out of their own dangerous mind.
Everyone feels pressure at some point in time. At the end of the day, are you gonna be a pipe that bursts under pressure or will you become a diamond?