Many athletes struggle to understand why they often perform better in practice then in games. For some the presence of pressure leads to enhanced performance and for others the exact opposite is true. To answer this question we have to unpack how pressure impacts certain players verses others. Realizing there is no one single right answer for everyone. The reason why this is the case is that everyone has a different formula for what brings the best out of them based on how they are wired when they find themselves in pressure situations. Let me illustrate:
Joe is a laid back person that takes most things in stride with a very easygoing personality. He is never really to excited and never really down. If you didn’t know him well you might assume that he doesn’t really care about much and is often accused of being a bit lazy. Practice is something that creates an opportunity to be with his friends and blow off some steam before going home for a night of Facebook and texting. For Joe the thought of a big game and any pressure associated with this game only serves to drive him into more perceived apathy and emotional disengagement because he is motivated and driven by comfort over achievement. As this unfolds a coach could become frustrated and overwhelmed, even a bit angry, as he tries to shape Joe into a more intense, engaged, and motivated player. Tactics could include applying more pressure telling Joe he will sit if he doesn’t bring more energy to the game and even yelling at him as he plays hoping to jar him out of his funk. All these do is entrench Joe more in his preferred social posture. So, what are some explanations for what is going on and how to help Joe be his best?
First, it is likely that Joe is a strong analytical and is not prone to emotional expression. Next, the more external pressure he feels the more he will become introverted and over think everything he does because he values doing things right the first time and not having to repeat them. In this case, pressure has the effect of activating the “over thinking” part of the brain and serves to paralyze him during competitive situations. The performance tip for Joe is to simplify the game, appeal to reason, stay calm, allow Joe the latitude to play without experiencing much external pressure, and to work with Joe to determine what he expects of himself and work to help him accomplish that.
Next we have Steve. Steve is a highly-strung athlete that approaches everything with great intensity and effort. He is a perfectionist with a very limited tolerance for mistakes not only in his performance, but with those around him as well. Practices are not only opportunities to improve but prove his superiority over those around him. His teammates both admire his intensity and are put off by it because of the inevitable critical statements that flow from him when he is under pressure. To his coaches Steve is the model that they hope to replicate and often name him a leader because of the work ethic and desire to win he brings to everything he does. Privately, Steve is haunted with fears of failure, disappointing others, and is only noticed when he is successful. In big games Steve begins to feel like the fate of his team lies in his play and anxiety takes over and literally tightens him up from head to toes. Fundamental skills become difficult and opportunities normally capitalized on with relative ease become very difficult. In this case, pressure serves to ignite more and more self-criticism bringing with it more and more intensity and pressure to succeed. Not only does he tighten up but his decision making process is negatively impacted by him second guessing himself and his intuitive instinctive play turns into tentative over thinking play. Coaches trying to encourage him only feel powerless to interrupt this pattern. Steve needs to learn how to calm himself and redefine how he deals with his desire for excellence. In reality, Steve needs to learn how to lighten up. Pressure ignites a different series of internal events for Steve that is different then Joe. Understanding the unique ways that each player deals with pressure and what the impact of that is on performance is very important when trying to help players be their best.
These are some examples of how pressure can affect different personality types and impact the ability of that athlete to compete and excel under pressure. As big games are on the horizon, understand that pressure has the capacity to eliminate the strengths of the best of players. No wonder we talk about the sport being 90% mental. There are many different personality blue prints that all respond to pressure differently. We have a unique tool called the TAIS profile that allows us to get a detailed blue print of how individual athletes are most apt to be impacted by pressure both externally and internally. This blue print then guides our coaching so we can work personally to help players be their best when it counts the most.
If you would like to take the TAIS and work with us to build your personal blue print so that you can be your best when it counts the most, give us a call today 763-439-5246 and let’s get started!
Until next time, here’s to your possibilities!