Mental Training For Sports: How to Handle Pressure
Pressure is one of the toughest and yet most amazing parts of life as an athlete. The big, important situations can bring out both the best and worst of us. Learn how to handle it like a champion.
In American culture, we don’t really value strength of mind to the point where we put effort into training it. In stark contrast with Eastern European and Far Eastern sports and martial arts, American sports rarely stress mental training techniques that can make a huge impact on athlete’s success. This needs to change…
Mental Training: Do Athletes Really Need it?
I use the term “we” because I played two decades as a baseball pitcher, one of the toughest positions in one of the most cerebral sports.
Baseball is difficult not because it’s an overly physical sport — it isn’t — but because the time-gap between plays is HUGE. Players have tons and tons of time to think about the magnitude of every single play, and get in their own way because of it.
What’s the time-gap, and what does it have to do with pressure, you ask?
The Time-Gap In Sports: Your Brain’s Worst Enemy.
Athletes of all sports play their best when they simply react to plays on the field, court, or diamond. In practice, where this is no consequence for losing (except perhaps a loss of rank in the depth chart), it’s easy to go what a player knows how to do. Without anything interrupting a player mentally, he or she can react to the ball handler, to the starting gun, to the offense or defense.
We teach our body in practice what we want it to do. Instinctively and reactively we train to improve all the requisite skills.
In baseball, we “See ball, hit ball.” In football, athletes read the defense and make lightning-fast decisions on what line to take. Reacting to the situation immediately at hand keeps athletic movements fluid and fast.
But when we have downtime — such as lining up a golf shot, waiting to kick a field goal, or determining which pitch to throw…it gives our brain time to internalize the stakes, outcomes, consequences, gravity and pressure of a situation. The time gap ruins an otherwise perfectly good athlete.
The time gap ruins an otherwise perfectly good athlete.
When we look down from atop a tall building, we suddenly get wobbly as the fear of falling invades our muscles. We can’t think about walking or standing, we can only think about falling.
How the Time Gap Relates to Pressure
When in a time gap, we have plenty of time in our own head to say:
Wow! This is a BIG situation! I hope I don’t screw it up!
In these gaps we realize:
- I can win the game right now
- I can lose the game right now
- Everyone is counting on me
- I’ll be embarrassed if I do X
- I’ll be embarrassed if I don’t do Y
- That scout is watching me
- I really need to do well today.
- I stunk last time, I need to redeem myself
- …and the list goes on.
When we have that moment, we are lost. We start thinking more about winning, losing and outcomes more than we think about the task at hand that we have actual control of. Mental training helps us get the power back.
When we get wrapped up in outcomes, winning and losing…we as athletes are lost
A Mental Training Routine Makes Pressure Manageable.
If you don’t have time right now, bookmark the video below (subscribe to my YouTube channel to do this easily) and watch it when you have a moment. It’s 10 minutes but definitely worth your time.
In it, I go in-depth about the different factors involved in pressure and how we can deal with them in a more positive way.
Need More Help? Enroll in My Mental Skills Video Course
My full mental skills course, The Resolute Athlete is 40 videos that will take any athlete (also great for teams) to the next level. The mental game is huge.
Dan Blewett is a former pro pitcher, 2x All-Star, writer, speaker and creator. He writes for numerous fitness websites and published his first book in 2013. Follow Dan on social media @coachdanblewett as he shares stories and wisdom from his playing career.
Originally published at www.danblewett.com.