‘When walking towards the Olympic track arena, it truly feels like you are walking into the gallows.’ This was noted by a recent professor of mine when talking about a previous client. Talk about pressure and anxiety! I see that sport professionals can prepare their athletes to perform well, execute movements and plays correctly, and understand the game to the best of our abilities in perfect situations. However, when it comes to the BIG games, can we actually prepare our athletes? In my opinion, no.
We can’t avoid pressure. It is always going to be around us, no matter what we do. Parents, peers, coaches, scholarships, recruiting, grades, etc, it comes at us in all directions, at all ages. And as we move up and up on the athletic and professional spectrum, the biggest pressure out there could arguably be, the media. No matter the age, athletes experience pressure, yet as Josh Huff experienced, it is critical to ‘focus on what he can control, the outside noise should be irrelevant.’
That being said, it is so easy to get caught up in what is going on around us, good or bad; yet when it comes down to it, is that really what we should be focusing on? Honestly, probably not. Going back to Huff’s article, I really enjoyed how simple he has created his mental game: “See Ball, Catch Ball.” It’s phrases like this that can help athletes to not get caught up with the external pressures and situations that are happening. A game is just a game, whether that is a pre-season game, conference game, or championship game. There is nothing different about them, except for the pressure.
It is great to see that professional athletes are now reaching out even more for sport psychology services because they see the effectiveness and benefits of what it does. It certainly comes to show that the mental side of the game can have a great impact on performance. If one can start to hone in on this at a younger age, the better off they will be in the future when performing in more and more pressured situations. Like I said previously, we can’t necessarily replicate the big situations and games, but we do have the ability, at any age, to control the components that make us feel as prepared as possible.