“How can I avoid the pressure that I feel when competing?” This question or something like it comes up a lot from competitors. In fact, I might have asked that same question early in my career. We are conditioned by the commonly held idea that pressure is a bad thing. If it’s bad then we need to avoid it.
That idea presented a problem for me because every time I competed in a big competition I felt pressure. I didn’t feel pressure in training very often. Interestingly enough, it did not seem to cause my scores to go down but it presented me with concern and caused increased anxiety when it occurred. In my more than forty years as both a competitor and a coach I have known only a few athletes that say that they do not feel something different in competition. For many, the effects of pressure are so destructive that they cause poor focus at critical times. However, many elite performers find that the pressure of competition is useful, even essential, to the attainment of their best performances.
My answer to the question of avoiding pressure today normally sounds something like this. “You should not want or need to avoid pressure. Pressure, or the stress of competition as some call it, is not something you need to avoid. It is something you need to use.”
First we must realize to control something we must understand it. The negative effects of pressure seem to be more prevalent in performers that have trouble winning. You can hear them talking about butterflies, being tight and the infamous choke. The good side of pressure just doesn’t make it as topic of conversation in a negatively charged world, but it should. Pressure, simply put, is neither positive nor negative. Pressure is like air. Too much and you have a hurricane. Too little and you suffocate. But in the correct amount it is the breath of life.
To learn more about how to control pressure from Lanny Bassham at www.mentalmanagement.com