Sports Psychology and Performing Under Pressure

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Sports Psychology and Performing Under Pressure

Do you ever get “butterflies” in your stomach (pregame jitters) before you compete? Do you get really nervous before the start of a big match or game and can’t relax after the game starts? Most athletes have felt the negative effects of pressure during their athletic careers.

Even the best athletes feel pressure before a big game, but they know how to channel the pressure into positive intensity to boost performance. What is pressure and how do athletes experience it?

Pressure is a perceived expectation of the need to perform well under challenging situations. Fear of failure and expectation are tied to pressure. When an athletes worries about disappointing others, for example, he or she is putting pressure on him or herself to not fail or look silly.

The first step is to understand that pressure starts inside you with your thoughts about the big game or meeting others' expectations, for example. High expectations – from yourself and others – turn into pressure. However, pressure is not some external force that grips you by the neck and strangles you.

Some athletes thrive on the feeling of pressure, whereas others crumble mentally and choke their brains out. Why? Experience, confidence, and beliefs play a vital role in how well an athlete will perform under pressure.

Pressure comes in many forms depending on the person and how an athlete *thinks* about the competition. Some sources of internal, self-inflicted pressure include:

1. Expectations you place on yourself about winning
2. Pressure to live up to the expectations from others (coach, parents, fans) to succeed
3. Thoughts underlying the fear of failure, such as having your hard work not pay off
4. Pressure to perform well or lose your place on the team
5. Pressure not to blow the game and not feel embarrassed
6. Pressure to perform perfectly and not make any mistakes

Pressure is very specific to each athlete and his or her own beliefs and thoughts. The athlete’s beliefs are key here. However, one constant is that pressure makes athletes tense, afraid, and worried, which leads to performing tentatively or cautiously. Tentative play looks like choking to others who observing.

How do you cope with pressure? The first step is to understand the specific pressures you place on your performance. When you understand *how* and *when* you feel pressure, you can use it to help you instead of work against you.

For example, if you feel pressure from your parents to win or succeed, you have to challenge your own thinking about the expectations you have adopted from your parents. Sometimes pressure comes from expectations you have taken on from other people in your life such as parents, coaches, and teammates. You may think that others have given you these expectations, but they are actually ones you have conjured up based on what others have said to you.

I don't want to give away the farm here, because I give you all my secrets to coping with pressure in one of my recorded teleclasses titled, “I Can Cope! Performing Your Very Best Under Pressure.”

You can get more information on over 24 recorded teleclasses by visiting my online mental training program at

In this class, I personally help you to identify the type of pressure you place on yourself AND give you 5 mental strategies to perform your best under pressure. Are you ready to learn how to perform your best in crunch-time? Tune into my recorded classes to find out!

About the Author: Want to learn simple, proven mental toughness skills that you can apply to competition? Grab my free online mental training newsletter, Sports Insights Magazine - for athletes, coaches, and sports parents:
Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach who work with professional and amateur athletes, sports parents, and teams of all levels. Visit for more information.

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