Sports pressure occurs for athletes when self (and others) expectations for performance begin to succumb to the anxieties and fears relating to failure and/or not living up to expectations. In practical terms, sports pressure is often witnessed before big games when otherwise talented athletes lose their mental toughness and “choke,” or perform below their capabilities and previous sport performances. While no athlete is immune to choking, there are very dramatic differences between athletes who learn how to handle pressure versus those who do not.
Sports pressure is a self-created life experience, and developed entirely on the belief patterns of the athlete. The simplest way to begin to understand how pressure develops is to look at how you view important life situations — do you see them as healthy challenges, or dangerous threats? If you perceive a big game as a great opportunity to showcase your talents, then you will inevitably play with less nervous energy and increase your chances as a result. Conversely, if you perceive a big game as a chance to be exposed for not having enough talent, your worries and insecurities will dominate your thinking, leading to major mind-body disruptions that will lead to missed shots, poor passes, and mental breaks and lapses.
Our bodies respond to how we perceive life, and when we “see” danger when facing up against sports opponents, our stress alarm system goes off and we respond much differently than we would if we viewed our opponents in much healthier ways (like as measuring sticks for where our talents are at any given moment).
Is the pressure getting to you?
While there are many signs that indicate pressure may be interfering with your game, the following are a few of the more common psychological warning signs:
- You ‘feel’ the pressure. This first sign is often felt intuitively, or simply feeling something without any evidence. For example, if days before a big game you have trouble getting excited for the game, or find yourself thinking too much about the negative “what if’s?” that might happen, it’s possible that you are starting to deal with mounting pressure that could lead to problems on game day.
- Life pattern disruptions. When we begin to feel stress it is not uncommon to experience sleep, diet, and various other disrupted life patterns (i.e. studying difficulties for students).
- Motivation, focus, and follow through are compromised. Instead of being pumped up to play, you lose your edge and find yourself struggling to find the excitement you need to play your best.
- Edginess. When athletes begin to see the smallest things set them off (things that normally wouldn’t), it may be a sign that pressure is beginning to negatively dominate thinking.
For athletes who regulatory struggle with sports pressure it is important to learn effective sport psychology mental toughness skills in order to minimize nerves and maximize confidence. Sadly, many athletes think that by simply “practicing harder” they will magically eliminate their unhealthy nerves, but extra practice rarely fixes the problem. Defeating sports pressure requires an open mind, proven mental toughness techniques and strategies, and patience while you are incorporating new approaches. For more information check out the Advanced Human Performance Systems growing line of high performance products here.