Performance pressure is an unavoidable aspect of sport. Coaches play a pivotal role in helping athletes navigate this challenge, turning pressure into an opportunity for growth and success.
Emulating Composure Under Pressure
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski once said, “A leader must show the face his teams needs to see.” This highlights the importance of coaches managing their emotions and setting a composed example for their team, even in high-pressure situations.
Reframing Pressure as an Opportunity
Former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith had a unique approach to pressure. He conveyed late-game high-pressure situations as fun challenges, famously asking, “Isn’t this fun?” or “Wouldn’t it be great to come back and win this one?” This strategy of positive reframing can significantly alleviate the weight of pressure on athletes.
Recognizing Players' Attitudes Towards Pressure
Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach, understood the importance of recognizing individual player responses to pressure. “When we are trying to decide who should take our last-second shot, we need to know who wants the ball,” she said. Identifying which players thrive under pressure and which might need more support is crucial.
Simplicity and Familiarity in High-Pressure Moments
Red Auerbach, the late, legendary Boston Celtics coach, advised sticking to familiar plays in critical moments. “With my teams, when we’d be down to the end of a game, I wouldn’t pull out a clipboard and give them a new play,” he said, emphasizing the importance of avoiding over-complication.
Positive Reinforcement and Avoiding Negative Focus
Focusing on positive actions rather than negatives can significantly impact athletes' performance. Reinforcing what athletes should do, rather than what they shouldn't, plants seeds of success in their minds.
The Role of Confidence and Belief in Overcoming Pressure
USWNT players Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe exemplified confidence and belief in high-pressure games. Their mindset of excitedly anticipating big moments instead of fearing them was a testament to their belief in rising to the challenge.
Coaches have a significant impact on how athletes perceive and handle performance pressure. By applying these insights and strategies, coaches can empower their athletes to transform pressure into a path to victory.
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