The Mental Pressure of Sports
Most athletes seek out sports psychologists or mental coaches because their mental aspects create more negatives than positives. These often include negative thoughts, lack of belief in one’s own abilities at crucial moments, debilitating nervousness under pressure and the most common thought for athletes in these situations - what can I do to control or handle the mental aspects of my performance?
Will it ever disappear?
Most athletes would give everything for the mental aspect to not be a part of their performance because they think it would make them execute at a higher level. Some of the questions that I encounter most often in my work with athletes are:
“Will ever just go away?”
“Will I be rid of this nagging discomfort?”
The short is answer is no. It will not necessarily disappear. There is a high likelihood that it will show its ugly head from time to time and if you just suppress it, you risk making it worse.
In your control
Think about it for a bit. It is not the discomfort that worries you. It merely feels like that, but it is not.
If you want to avoid discomfort and the feelings of being under pressure and stuck or avoild working outside your comfort zone, you can just stop putting yourself in those situations. You can avoid them, run from them, lower your expectations or you could start playing at a lower level of competition, then you will not experience the discomfort. But that is not what worries you. You are frustrated by the actions that the discomfort makes you to take. So question should not be “Will it ever just go away?”, but rather “Will the discomfort always keep me from performing my best?”.
The answer to this is unequivocally no. You can learn to manage your competitive feelings. You can learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable while you are still acting and performing to the best of your ability. You can learn to take your unique competitive mind-set and feelings with you - without them stopping you from being the best possible version of yourself - on and off the field.
What is your mental focus?
Is it more important for you to feel safe, without pressure, without expectations, without the possibility of failure and without the risk of losing? Or does matter more for you to able to stand by the person you are, what you can do, what you have spent hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours training for, and to succeed in your sport?
If it is the latter, you will at some point feel tense before a game, before an action in the game or when scouts and national team coaches are there to watch you perform. It is an inevitable part of being an elite athlete. You cannot succeed on field and not be affected by the pressure it brings to perform at an elite level.
Ask yourself if you want to feel content before or after the game. You can only choose one of the two. If it is before the game, you probably should stay at a more leisurely level and play against athletes at a lower level of competition because you will be better than them and the pressure will play a smaller part.
If you want to stand proud, strong-willed and be brave after and during the game, you will have to accept the presence of the competitive feelings and mind-set. The simple fact is that you cannot escape them and realize your dreams at the same time. They will always have the potential to pop up when you have to perform when it is important to you, both on and off the field.
Mental training is action
The mental obstacles are not the important focus points, rather it is how you handle them that will move mountains for you. So do you actually do something about your mental challenges? Or are you simply hoping that they will disappear on their own and never affect your performance again?
If the latter is the case, you are in for a series of disappointing experiences. Your problems will not just disappear, and you have not learned from them and you are not prepared the next time the problems arise - and they always will.
Through mental training you will develop your mental abilities, and it will help prepare you to perform in the highly pressured and uncomfortable environment that is professional sports.