Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dealing with stress in a pressure situation

During my playing and coaching career, I can remember being faced with hundreds of pressure situations; hitting against the top pitcher in our league, coming to bat with bases loaded and the winning run on second base, deciding whether to intentionally walk a hitter in a tight game, watching a pitcher struggle to get the final out in a state championship game that we are winning, etc. It knots up my stomach just thinking about them again.

These type of pressure situations can cause stress which inhibits performance. So the coach must train the player to deal with the pressure using various techniques to neutralize the effects of stress that will lead to improved performance. I have found 3 techniques that seem to work extremely well to relieve the stress of a pressure situation and therefor creating an opportunity for the athlete to perform. They can be used independently or in conjunction with each other. What ever works for you and your players.

Technique 1: Smile. It sounds funny and when first introduced may come across as corny, however I have seen this work time-and-time again. Smiling relieves stress. So when you or your player finds themselves in a situation where they feel all eyes are on them...smile.

Technique 2: Take a deep breadth. In from the nose, out from the mouth. The exhale causes a relaxation to occur in the major muscles of the body. This relaxation in the midst of competition allows for speed, quickness, and control; All key to executing a skill in a high pressure environment.

Technique 3: Go through your routine. The familiar is always more certain then the unexpected. Having a pregame routine, a pre-at-bat routine, a pre-pitch routine, etc. will settle you into the moment for optimal performance. Learn your routine or develop one to aid you in those pressure situations you may find yourself in.

These are all great techniques to use when you find yourself feeling the stress of being in a high pressure situation. Playing competitive sports is filled with these type moments that can't be avoided. They come with the territory. An even better strategy for managing these situations and increasing the probability of success occurs prior to the start of the event. They are preparation and visualization.

Some aspects of your workouts should consist of a series of "game speed" and "game situation" exercises that mirror various moments where execution of a skill is critical to the outcome of the game. The more you and your players have performed a skill in a "game-like" situation the more confidence each will have. Preparation builds confidence, confidence neutralizes pressure and re-labels it as routine.

The other, less taught, strategy for increasing success in a pressure situation is visualization. High performance athletes are taught to imagine the successful execution of a skill prior to engaging in the activity. After the mind has completed visualizing the event, the body simply follows the path laid out by the mind. Visualization takes discipline and practice but is a critical element to successfully maneuvering through high pressure moments.

There is no avoiding pressure in sporting events. Pressure is simply the emotional influence of the event on the body. The bodies reaction to the pressure is STRESS. These techniques aid in reducing stress. We don't have control over the pressure however we can manage the stress. Use these techniques and your performance will improve.

1 comment:

  1. This is really good stuff. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us!