One of the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacle that athletes face as they work to reach their full athletic potential is overcoming pressure. Interestingly, pressure is not something experienced by people the same way, and in many cases what one athlete considers to be negative pressure another athlete will experience very differently. The point is that experiencing pressure is due human perception, and how you perceive situations will determine whether you deal with negative anxiety or positive confidence.
What is “pressure?”
When I give lectures on the topic of mental toughness and sports pressure, I often use visual examples to drive home the point how subjective, varied, and delicate human perception is, and the subsequent impact our perceptions have on our behaviors. When we feel challenged, we exert great focus, force, and energy toward our goals; on the other hand, when we feel we are being threatened, our bodies kick into defense and set off alarms that are like warnings for us to protect ourselves. Amazingly, both responses, while very different, are triggered simply by how we choose to think.
Sport psychologists regularly work with athletes to help them better understand the importance of human perception, and often use the terms “challenges and threats” to describe human perception. When we begin to “see” situations as challenges rather than threats, we then trigger a number of mind-body synchronizing movements, including sharper focus, better energy, and of course, greater confidence. Conversely, when we choose to “see” situations as threatening, we disrupt our positive energy and instead experience nervous anxiety, butterflies, poor focus and resiliency.
The old saying “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure” implies that something you find to be of little value could be viewed quite differently by another person (which explains eBay and the millions of transactions that happen daily). Think about that for a moment — today alone countless transactions will occur where one seller cannot wait to get an old piece of exercise equipment out of his basement, while another buyer eagerly awaits to receive the very same piece of equipment! This example once again illustrates how differently we “see” the world around us.
Teaching athletes to train their minds to “see” what they want to see really is something that can be achieved, and dedicated coaches and parents do this every day. For example, if a coach suddenly makes his team run a bunch of sprints, kids can teach themselves to see an exercise like this as a challenge to make them better, and not something that is being used to make them feel inadequate. Similarly, when young athletes play against better opponents, they can be encouraged to see the game as a challenge since they are not expected to win and have everything to gain. When kids feel as though they are threatened, we can remind them of how to change their perceptions toward playing their best rather than worrying about what people will think if they lose.
Yes, we really can help young athletes dramatically improve upon dealing with pressure, and great pressure players really can be made (instead of thinking they are only “born” that way). Teach kids to “see” challenges around every corner and praise them for their efforts — before long you’ll have an entire team of pressure players!
Take your game to the next level – pick up our sports performance e-book today!