Practice your sport to reduce the pressure in competition


by Dale Trenholm

March 12, 2014 (ISN) – Under pressure, when the game is on the line, you sink to the level of your training. What does this mean? Is sinking to the level of your training a bad or good thing?

Pressure, in fact, is normal and must be accepted as a necessary part of sports that helps athletes focus and tests how they handle pressure when the game is on the line. Each game there is a lesson to learn, win or lose.

With my previous articles I stated that pressure is just an external distraction to take an athlete off his game.

The real pressure or stress comes when an athlete internalizes the past, present and future with their sport. They could be thinking of a bad or good past performance either before a game or during a game. In fact, a good performance can distract an athlete even more to performing well the next time or during a competition because an athlete could be thinking too much on the last successes before or during the game. I found that when a young athlete wins too much, they expect this will always be the way, so then they begin to think of the future results—which in time, if they expect to win, will put enormous pressure on themselves to win, which eventually turns into the extreme fear of losing and being too hard on themselves if they do lose. They are actually seeing themselves losing, which of course will manifest into losing.

I know from experience as an athlete and coach, this is not fun and not the mindset to have to enjoy and, be successful, playing sports. An athlete needs to accept losing as a part of winning, as losing is actually a good thing, if they know how to use a loss properly to be better next time. The only part an athlete needs to practice and perfect even more, besides the physical part to be an elite athlete is their inner and outer dialogue about the past, and future, which ultimately will affect their present successes and longevity as an elite athlete. Having the right attitude is critical!

This leads to my question: is sinking to the level of your training a bad or good thing, and what does it mean? Take an elite pitcher, goalie, 1500-meter runner, or fighter for instance. If they can’t mentally and physically in practice throw a perfect slider, make a certain save, run a certain speed, or have a great jab, as in boxing, they certainly won’t be able to do this when the game is on the line. They will revert back to what they can do in practice, which isn’t really going to take them very far as an elite athlete. They haven’t prepared well enough, mastered their art in practice to trust that they will have all the tools mentally and physically to perform when it counts. Take Carrey Price for instance this Olympics: do you think he was ready to perform when it counted?

What do you need to do then? You have to be able to simulate and master your art in practice to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually to be ready to handle the distraction and pressure to perform when everything is on the line with your sport. This takes years of practice. Perfect practice and preparation breeds confidence leading into your competition, which leads to sinking to your training to perform properly. Ultimately, you have to trust your training and just play from moment to moment. I will talk more about this paragraph next article.

I heard a quote from Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning: “Pressure is for players that don’t know what the heck they are doing.” Does he mean physical or mental pressure? Both. You need to practice, and practice, and practice more, then more, and then even some more so you know what you are doing, so you learn what is necessary after thousands of hours of training, losing, and winning while competing, so when that big game or race comes at the end of the season, you are able to trust yourself when you have to sink to your level of training to perform under extreme pressure and succeed with your sport. Go Practice! 

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