7 Coaching Tips to Help Athletes Manage Competition Pressure

In the following excerpt from the book Championship Performance Coaching Volume 2: 200+ Practical, Proven Sports Psychology and Team Building Strategies to Win More this Season use these 7 coaching tips to help your players control pressure situations.

  1. Coach the process, not the outcome. When an athlete focuses on the importance of the game, winning and losing, or anything to do with the outcome of the performance, he/she is in big trouble. This focus distracts the athlete from a performance focus, tightens them up physically and insures that play will be tight and tentative. Get your athletes to focus on specifically what they have to do to win, not on winning.
  2. Teach an awareness of the stress/performance curve. If you can help your athletes understand the relationship between their level of nervousness and how well they perform you will have taken a major step towards helping them to better handle pressure. If an athlete can “read” their nervousness pre performance and can tell the difference between “good” and “bad” nervous, then they will be in a better position to be able to do something about their arousal level before it’s too late.
  3. Reframe adversity. Teach your athletes how to use whatever adversity comes their way to boost confidence rather than erode it. Teach reframing in practice. Help your players see that poor weather conditions, bad calls by the officials, unsportsmanlike play, fatigue, etc, can work for them. There is always an advantage in a disadvantage. Train your players to find it.
  4. Use simulation daily. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. It’s the quality of your practices that is ultimately responsible for how much your athletes get from practice time and how well they handle highly pressured situations.

Integrate competitive elements into your practices to help your athletes better adjust to the actual pressure of game day. The more your practices resemble competitions, the less chance your athletes will have of falling apart under pressure. If your athletes have trouble with bad calls, certain playing conditions, being down early, etc., simulate these elements as closely as possible in your practices.

  1. Create a “go-for-it” atmosphere. In practice create an atmosphere of “nothing to lose” or “free to fail.” When athletes are not concerned about making mistakes they perform their best. If your players are worrying about messing up they will be distracted enough and tight enough to indeed mess up.

Encourage your players to let their mistakes go immediately and to focus on what they want to have happen, not what they are afraid will happen. Reward mistakes when and athlete has truly gone for it, when they have given a winning effort.

Athletes should avoid saying things like, “I played well so therefore I’m a winner.” or “I was awful and therefore I suck as a person.” You set the tone for this in how you interact to your athletes. If an athlete’s ego is on the line every time he or she competes, they will play ‘tight’ with a lot to lose. This will cause them get stressed out and play poorly.

  1. Challenge your athletes, don’t threaten them. When an athlete or team is threatened with consequences should they not perform well, they will consistently fall apart when the game is on the line. Threats only serve to distract the athlete from the task at hand and get them to worry about the consequences for failure.  The goal is increased self-confidence.

Focusing on the “what ifs” of losing is the last thing you want your athletes to do before and during an important game. Instead, challenge them. Give them the message, which is implicit in any challenge that you think that they can do it, that you believe in them. Athletes will most frequently rise to your challenges and respond poorly or inconsistently to your threats.

  1. Focus your players for peak performance under pressure. Most stress related performance problems are a direct result of faulty concentration. The athlete that gets easily psyched out or intimidated does so because he or she is focusing on the wrong things, i.e., the actual or imagined prowess of the other player or team.

Help your athletes concentrate on specifically what they have to do to play well. Teach them to “control their eyes and ears,” to only look at, or listen to things that keep them composed and performing the best.

Excerpted from the book Championship Performance Coaching Volume 2: 200+ Practical, Proven Sports Psychology and Team Building Strategies to Win More this Season