Mental Toughness issue #4: Pressure

The thing about athletics is this: Everyone is watching. Whether you play professionally and on television or in your local golf tournament. Whether there are 15,000 people in the stands or 5, you are performing in public. This can add a great deal of pressure to a situation. No one really wants to let anyone else down or embarrass themselves. (Which is why public speaking is the #1 fear in America- ranked higher than death). And while that fear of embarrassment can be really uncomfortable, there actually is some biological reason for it. Our brain actually considers a ‘social death’ (i.e. complete and total embarrassment, rejection, public failure) comparable to real death because it could mean actually death. In primal terms, a ‘social death’ meant we were ostracized from the group that could protect us, the group that we depended on for survival. So some of this ‘fear’ is ingrained in us and some of it can be healthy and normal. It’s the same societal pressure to keep us law abiding for instance or keeps us from acting on every impulse we have. But like most fears in our life, there is a time and place for them. On the playing field, these fears don’t have a place. So what can you do to help your athletes deal with this pressure? Some athletes play for their coaches or teammates or loved ones in the stands. Some coaches do the same. This can be fun and helpful to a certain degree, but eventually it creates a snowball effect. You make a mistake and you worry what other people are thinking- you try to mind read what they are thinking then you try to make up for your mistake or play or coach tentatively in order to not make another mistake. Neither one of these reactions can ever help you to perform better. The first key is to realize that no one mistake or bad play or bad game is that important in the grand scheme of things. The best and worst thing about sports is that you are only as good as your last performance-which means there is always another opportunity to redeem yourself (redeem yourself by playing or coaching like YOU, not by trying to make up for a past performance). Sports in general have a short memory and while everyone else has moved on, you might still be worried about what they think about a mistake you made. They’ve moved ON!!!! And you should to. And furthermore, who really cares? Sure players don’t want to let their coaches and teammates down. Sure it’s not fun to have fans and the media saying negative things. But at the end of the day, the only thing anyone really can control is to play their hardest, to give everything they have. The exact same thing can be said about coaching. Most coaches learn to have a thick skin but constant criticism can be wearing. We all want to be liked, we all want to be accepted by those around us (its our biological urge! And its kept us alive this long). But at some point, pleasing the Athletic Department, the players, the media, the fans (not to mention the people in your personal life) is impossible. At the end of the day, you can only care so much about what other people think. Just like your players, the only thing you can do is to give everything you have.


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