The Olympics are on! I love the two weeks, not just as a former athlete (who still can’t shake that competitive drive) but also as a Sport Psychologist. I love to watch and listen to what the athletes say, what the commentators say, and the flow of energy and momentum. I was watching the Men’s Slopestyle and the Bronze medalist, Mark McMorris from Canada, had one shaky run and then pulled it together in the semifinal and final. He said in his interview when asked about the event, “the pressure just finds me.” I loved hearing this!
Mind you, this was a 20 second sound bite so who knows what comments preceded or followed this, and I don’t know him or how he thinks, but I found this interesting for two reasons. One, that he was almost surprised at the pressure. Heck, it’s the Olympics! There is not much pressure-wise that can compare to this event. And two, this tells me his preparation either made him feel he shouldn’t have felt pressure, or he didn’t prepare enough for the pressure.
I work with athletes preparing for big events all the time and many of them fall prey to the faulty thinking that if they just pretend it won’t be pressurized, then it won’t be! You know the old, “I will just treat this like it’s every other meet/show/race/match/game.” Not possible! The pressure will find you! What there is to do is to prepare for the pressure.
So, how does someone prepare for pressure? Isn’t that the $64,000 question! First, figure out what pressure looks like for you. Not everyone feels pressure when his or her whole family is there, some find it relieves pressure. Who is your “opponent” and does that create pressure or motivation? Home court or away, which means more pressure to you? Remember, what creates pressure to you might create power to someone else and vice-versa.
Second, third, fourth, and to infinity is to prepare for the pressure. The more you have practiced performing with pressure, the better you can handle it. I know too many competitors that create a performance bubble at home that protects and insulates them from pressure. Now, this is a useful tool in some parts of your training, but must not become the only practice habit. You need to practice performing or competing with things bugging you! Distractions take away mental energy, which converts to physical performance. Reduce distractions as much as possible by becoming used to having them! When you have practiced and performed enough with many distractions, they just fade into the background and leave only your excellence in the foreground. By doing this, you give yourself as few things as possible to think about so that all your focus can be on your event. Make as many things as you can into a routine so that they become automatic. Make your thoughts great and turn that into a routine! That is the BEST use of your energy and will result in the best use of your mind and body!