Posts Tagged 'self-talk'

Pressure Can Make Us

Elite levels of soccer are the perfect breeding ground for pressure. Players battle for spots on a roster or the starting line-up every time they come to training. Coaches demand a consistent high level of play from their players. There is often little room for error. This sport – like so many others – is so challenging and unpredictable at times that dealing with pressure becomes more the rule than the exception. It’s a mistake for players to believe you can snap your fingers and make the pressure go away. However, young players can learn how to feed off competitive pressure, improve focus, and raise their game to a higher level.

Which is why – at the start of the Women’s World Cup –  I love this new commercial from Nike:

Here are some suggestions for successfully dealing with competitive pressure before and during performance:

Begin to see pressure as a privilege. The pressure of consistently performing well is the price of playing at such an elite level. Too many athletes are simply afraid of pressure-packed situations in games or’ in training. The best players learn to view this pressure as their ally and not their enemy. They see pressure as a tool to push their play to a higher level.

Make pre-game butterflies fly in formation. A lot of players are affected by the pre-game jitters – the zooming heart rate, the butterflies in the gut, etc. This is the body’s natural physiological (fight or flight) reaction to stress. The brain’s job is to make meaning of these signals (which is usually, “you’re nervous”).

The trick to effectively dealing with this is to reinterpret what these physiological signals mean. This is your choice! Instead of thinking, “I’m nervous, I can’t be nervous” when feel the butterflies, change the meaning of this signal to something helpful, such as “I’m ready!”

Focus on the Controllables. The “uncontrollables” as the biggest mental trap athletes fall into in pressure-packed situations. The “uncontrollables” are quite simply all the things in a performance that are directly out of your control (e.g., dealing with a teammate’s mistakes, the play of your opponent, the crowd, the ref, etc). When a player focuses on the uncontrollables three things will consistently happen to him – First, he’ll start to get anxious and physically tight. Second, his confidence will start to slide. Third, his performance will begin to suffer. What are the things we can control? Simple: Effort, attitude, and focus.

Choose to trust what you got. At the heart of playing with confidence in the face of pressure is trusting one’s ability and performing/playing in the present moment. When pressure builds, our minds often become cluttered and we lose our focus. At that moment, we’re usually focused on what just happened or what might (or might not) happen.

The key to being “in the moment” is shifting your mind from “thinking” to “trusting”. Thinking too much can be a big problem – especially when spontaneous reactions allow you to perform your best.

“Don’t think! Just Play!” is usually the advice athletes get when faced with pressure. While such advice isn’t necessarily bad, many athletes struggle with simply cutting off their thoughts altogether. When you find yourself thinking too much, remember that the closest number to zero is one. If you can’t cut off your thoughts altogether, choose one word or a short phrase that directs your focus and instructs your actions.

Effective “cue words,” (such as “quick feet” for a goalkeeper defending a shot, or “first to the ball!” for a player defending a corner, or “what’s important now?” for the forward that just missed a golden opportunity to score) capture what you’re trying to accomplish and help you stay focused on the task at hand.



Be Your Own Best Caddie

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

The best caddies in the world repeatedly exhibit two common traits that assist his or her player to perform consistently.   Two major characteristics that come to mind are informative and supportive.  Since many (if not all) rounds are played without the services of a caddie, however, some of the best players have learned to be “their own best caddie” to perform at a high level with or without a loyal assistant on the bag.  So how can the rest of us learn to take this message to the course as well?  Take a step back and think about what your caddie would say and do to maximize your potential and lower your score during the round.

Informative – There is such a thing as having too much information in your head before executing a shot, but there is also such a thing as having too little.  The best caddies seem to find just the right amount of information to get the player comfortable, committed, and ready to execute.  On TOUR, caddies are trained to give the player the physical distance, assist in reading and evaluating the lie, and taking into account the direction and speed of the wind.  These three factors contribute to the caddie and player establishing the total distance necessary for every shot.  Only after these three factors have been considered, and the total number calculated does the player pull the club and identify a target to execute.  Are you giving yourself the right amount of information for each shot?

Supportive – There are not too many long lasting player-caddie relationships that lack support (at least in the direction of caddie toward player).  Any caddie that puts down a player or critiques them critically during a round will certainly not be on the bag for any extended period of time.  The best caddies use phrases like “stay committed”, “we can do this”, or “let’s work to get one back here”.  Does that sound like the language you are using with yourself throughout a round…or does that inner caddie take on a different tone of voice?  It may be helpful to create a few key phrases that you would typically accept from a supportive caddie throughout your four plus hour, potentially rollercoaster round.  Become aware of your own voice and decide if it’s the voice of the hired caddie, or the fired one.

Being informative and supportive are only two examples of characteristics that strong caddies provide for their player.  Take some time to create the characteristics of “your own best caddie” and enjoy the 18-hole march without him or her there in a physical sense.  You may find that your round is a bit more enjoyable with a lower score to match!

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