Pressure is a perceived expectation of the need to perform well under challenging situations. Athletes in particular are known for either choking or excelling under extreme pressurized circumstances. Often, fear of failure is tied to pressure and can either fuel or exhaust athletes’ efforts. A few examples of how fear plays into an athletes’ performance:
An athletes’ level of experience, confidence, and self-belief play a vital role in how well he/she performs under pressure.
Some athletes have to overcome beliefs set upon them by parental pressure such as unspoken thoughts of, ‘win or else I’ll withhold love and approval.’ The athlete must overcome that mental pressure by challenging their own thinking about the expectations they have adopted from their parents. They need to develop their own set of internal values and motivators.
Sometimes the external pressures mixed with internal conflicts cause an athlete to not only make playing errors, but lose focus to the point that he/she loses interest in the sport altogether. It also seems that pressure-choking by an athlete comes into play when the athlete focuses too much on the intricacies of his skill or feels intimidated by the higher playing level of teammates or competitors.
Sports psychologists serve an important role in helping athletes overcome the pressure so the athlete can focus on improving his/her skills so the skills become ingrained and automatic. Sports psychologists can also work with doctors to help the athlete successfully heal physically, mentally, and emotionally from injuries.
Sports psychologists help athletes identify the trigger points for pressure and how the athlete can use that pressure to work for him instead of against him. Even stellar athletes feel pressure before a big game or match, but they’ve learned how to channel that pressure into positive intensity to boost performance.
After the pressure trigger points are discovered and acknowledged, sports psychologists can then work with an athlete to identify what he/she should really be focusing on – performance – the next play, shot, or basket. An increase in successful moves or scores increases adrenaline flow.
Unnecessary pressure hinders an athletes’ ability but adrenaline prepares the body for action. It increases oxygen flow to the bloodstream and also improves or extends the athletes’ physical performance capabilities. Now, that’s what we want to see on the field or court!
Do you think athletes can permanently prevent pressure-choking with mental strength? I’d like to hear your thoughts.