by Dale Trenholm
March 5, 2014 (ISN) – Anyone who has played sports has felt the pressure to perform, to do better than last time, and to win a game or championship at a local, provincial, national or international level. No matter what level you are at, however, the pressure is coming from the same place – your mind.
This pressure is like having our head in a vice where we voluntarily crank the vice to increase the pressure. Well, pressure in competition, no matter how critical, is ultimately self-inflicted. Sometimes external forces cause distractions, but pressure is what we must deal with most often to perform.
Cause and effect – there is a story that goes like this: Years ago I was fishing by an opening along a river bank when all of a sudden this woman came floating by screaming for help. I jumped out into the river and pulled her out. She thanked me, and I continued fishing. Moments later, a man floated down the river yelling for help, so I jumped out into the river and pulled him in. Next came a child, then another man, and yet another woman. I was thinking: this is enough…what the heck is causing this? So I walked up the river a couple-of-hundred feet and there was a group of people throwing other people in the river. I quickly phoned the police who promptly arrived to arrest them. Problem solved.
What is the moral of the story? I found the cause to what was affecting these people floating down the river, and the police were the solution. Our mind works the same way with pressure towards sports. The cause of sports pressure is letting external distractions oppose tactics: thinking too much, having certain expectations for an outcome (winning); a fear of losing, making mistakes, or letting teammates down; pressure from family and friends; or having great results the year before. The list is endless, and as an athlete I have experienced them all.
As a pitcher years ago, I had the opposition call me names before a game. One time, while I was warming up, an opposing player to the right of me threw a ball at my head. Luckily, I saw it at the last moment and ducked. These were all tactics and pressure to take me away from my focus, which would have helped them win the game. I struck out those batters and 17 of their teammates these two times because their tactics made me focus on the task at hand even more. I could have let their tactics cause me to perform poorly, but I realized what it would have done. The effects for me would have been having a bad game, because I would have let the pressure of angry emotions get in the way.
Knowing the cause of pressure is how we handle, from within, the external distractions, which will then affect our performance and results. What is the solution? We can’t call the police to arrest people, but we can call our inner police to arrest our inner thoughts that result from the external pressures trying to enter our minds and control our focus with sport. These pressures may instill a fear of making mistakes, anger, or of what people will think if we lose. When you are in control, you can enjoy the journey; and at the same time, you can be at your best that day by remaining focused on the task at hand, which some call “the zone” or “being in the moment.”
Save analyzing and fixing problems for after the competition. Anything less than being in the moment means you are giving in to past and future thoughts, which will negatively affect your performance. Next time you are performing, practicing, or have a goal with sports, pay attention to what is distracting you from being focused, then acknowledge the distraction and leave it out of what you are trying to accomplish. Remember why you are playing sports and have fun with the journey, because losing is, and will always be, a part of winning. The more we give in to external distractions, the more these distractions will affect our outcome. What else do we need to do to help with pressure? This will be covered in my next article.