Pressure: Can you handle it? What is pressure and how pressure affects performance! by, Amanda J. N. Owens FRSM, MSc, AASP Certified & Registered Sport Psychologist, BASES Accredited, BOA Advisory Committee Panel Member. Leadership & Change Management specialist.
Sports professionals day in day out perform under huge amounts of pressure. Some athletes excel and some athletes capitulate and choke under pressure. So how do some athletes learn to cope and perform at their best consistently, whilst others under-perform? In some instances the whole team can collectively choke and under-perform. In the world today, we live in a pressurised environment that includes, longer days, deadlines, and omnipresent technology. Today’s workplace and life is fast paced, immediate responses are now modern day Business etiquette requirements; Ipads, Blackberry’s and emails on the go are the norm. We live and function in a constant vacuum of pressure. For some individuals this is where they thrive; here they perform better, run on high cortisol levels and are in a constant threat mode. For others the pressure can be debilitating, constricting and can lead to mood and anxiety disorders, high levels of anxiety, as well as depression and illness from work impacting family, relationships and one’s mental health. On a daily basis we hear and are confronted frequently this term in sport and indeed in everyday life. While organisational psychology and business psychology appear to have realised the importance of understanding the concept of pressure. It seems sport psychology is far behind with the research. Yet success and failure are the resultants from how an individual and/or team perform under pressure. Much has been written about arousal, stress and anxiety in sport psychology and business psychology. The research looks at the consequent impact relationships on performance, however, very little is known about the concept of pressure. It is a separate construct: What is pressure? It appears that pressure is a combination of anxiety, arousal and understanding the stress response process; however, pressure is more linked to perception of the situation and learnt emotional responses. If the individual has memory and learnt experiences that he or she can draw on and emotionally utilise to ensure they can deal with pressure. This includes the emotional responses and ability to control nerves, positive responses and learnt behaviour. Everyone responds to pressure differently and it is important to note that everyone is unique and would be helpful to ask: Understanding how the complexities of motor control and Schmidt’s model can influence and impact pressure in a positive way in the way we learn and especially under pressurized conditions. In addition, how Understanding one’s cycle of experience (Gestalt psychology) and emotional or physiological responses as well as perception impact behaviour and in some athletes enable them to perform well under pressure while others under-perform and ‘choke.’