Performing under Pressure - top 10 tips
Posted at 09:10:59 by Jacky Leonard
"Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”
I was at this year’s school games in May managing the team from Badminton Wales. Around 1600 of the UKs best young sports people took part in 12 sports ranging from athletics to wheelchair basketball over 4 days of intensely fought competition. At these events my role is to support the players and coaches and deal with all things off court so they have as little of the logistics to worry about as possible. I consequently spend a great deal of time observing the behaviour of performers during play and in their downtime; their response to winning and losing, their internal and external triggers, their interaction with their peers, tournament staff, team staff and parents. How some players, team staff and parents thrive on a challenge, others battle to survive and a few crumble under the pressure. You can witness the full range of emotions on a playing field...from elation, frustration, relief, anger deep sadness, sheer joy and everything in between. It's a fascinating mix of human dynamics and shows the best and worst of people...young and older.
Rudyard Kipling, in his poem If, suggested triumph and disaster be treated the same. A worthy sentiment, but one which is not particularly easy to execute when you've put your heart and soul into your performance.
Even elite athletes aren't immune to stresses, strains and self doubt, where very often it's the mental games you play with yourself that are the fine line between standing on top of the winner’s podium or being one of the also rans. This year's Wimbledon provided us with some classic examples of how important being mentally tough is in achieving your goals. You will have witnessed how fortunes can turn in an instant because of an internal trigger, external distraction or interruption. The seeds of doubt, once sowed can strangle your dreams...if you let them. Of course these challenges are an intrinsic part of the elite sports persons day job. So what lessons can you learn from them that will allow you to meet the demands of your daily challenges? If you're one of those people who lets the stress of a new project, a demanding or critical person, or deadline get to you, how do you continue to perform well, even under pressure?
Here are my top 10 tips for rising to the challenge and keeping it together when the going gets tough…
- Know your stuff! - be technically brilliant in what you do...and continue to hone your skills at every opportunity. Even the most naturally gifted people appreciate the need for continual improvement, particularly if they want to stay ahead of the competition.
- Keep your eyes on the prize - be clear about your outcome i.e. what you want to achieve, why you want it, who'll support you and your timescales and make sure those you work with are clear about those things too.
- Be prepared - I'm sure you've heard the old adage 'Practice makes perfect.' Well that's not entirely true; practice actually makes permanent, only 'Perfect practice makes perfect.' So the quality of how you prepare is as important as the time you spend preparing. Visualisation and positive pre-play are great preparation tools.
- Believe to achieve - raise your right hand in the air and say after me...I believe! Identify and eliminate your limiting beliefs. If you allow them to creep into your psyche they'll gradually eat away at your confidence, erode your self esteem and cripple your progress. Before you begin any challenge you have to believe you can do it, after all nothing is impossible...except perhaps lighting a match on a jelly!
- Silence your gremlins - many people beat themselves up verbally e.g. "You'll never be able to do that." "Remember what happened last time you tried that." “Can I do this job now I’ve taken it on?” etc. Do you speak kindly enough to yourself? Controlling your internal dialogue and replacing any negative thoughts with more positive self talk can be an incredibly empowering tool.
- Reflect for success - It may be tough to accept, but you're probably not perfect (there I've said it). You're bound to encounter the odd set back, hurdle or period when things are just not going to plan. Take time to reflect on how you deal with your successes and your failures; it can say a lot about you.
- Act as if - sometimes the only way to gain that boost of confidence is to fake it 'til you make it! Acting with confidence can often make you feel that way.
- Be a radiator - a positive mental attitude has so many advantages; for a start you'll be a pleasure to be around; people will warm to you and you’ll be able to influence them more effectively. It also helps your brain cells to transmit messages more effectively to its neighbours thus enabling you to create more opportunities.
- Get in balance – If you’re someone who believes in everything in moderation…including moderation, you may need to get a lifestyle check up. Are there things, or people in your life that are being neglected because you’ve not got your life in balance? The wheel of life is a useful tool to help review your current situation and reflect on those areas that may need your attention.
- Make it happen - eventually you've just got to take a risk, stick your neck out and go for it. Remember...we all make mistakes; it's a natural part of the learning process. The only failure is quitting when things get tough.
Go on then…perform!