Managing “Pressure” in Competition

It seems like each year there are certain athletes who come to the forefront and excel on the biggest stage in sports. In my career as a professional baseball player, I had the unique opportunity to be a part of some very pressure filled situations. I also had the luxury of witnessing some of the best baseball players of all time succeed time after time under extreme pressure. My experiences and observations in playing with the best athletes in the world taught me keys to tame anxiety and succeed under pressure.

As you watch big sporting events such as the World Series, Super Bowl, the Masters, Wimbledon, or the Olympics, listen to what the heroes say in their interviews after they win. You will often hear them mention their preparation, game plan or strategy.  The key to their success was the process of executing that strategy. You rarely hear pitchers talk about how hard they were throwing or how well their curve ball was breaking. They typically mention that they were able to execute their pitches, stay ahead in the count, and utilize their game plan to win the game.

Whether it is Little League or the World Series, preparation begets confidence. If you feel confident in the preparation of your game plan, mechanics and fundamentals, it directly translates into better execution in intense situations. In more practical terms, think of what you do before taking a test or making a big presentation. If you are prepared, you feel confident. If you are confident, you are more likely to stay relaxed and focused in the moment. The bottom line: If you spend ample time preparing for that moment, you will feel more relaxed and confident when it comes time to perform under pressure.

The great coaches I had during my career always told me that I should never be surprised by a situation on the baseball field. The theory is that if you continually envision and practice putting yourself in big game situations, you will perform better in those situations. Make it a part of your daily practice to hit that game winning shot, or get the World Series winning hit. This will help you prepare for that moment and relax when everyone else is getting more tense.

Whether you are in game 7 of the World Series, in the first game of little league season, or the relay anchor on the US Olympic Swim Team, your job remains the same. Execute your fundamentals and strategy in that moment. As a pitcher, determine what pitch to throw and make that pitch. As a hitter, pick out a good pitch to hit and put a great swing on the ball. The situation is irrelevant to your task. Even if you are facing Mike Trout in the seventh game of the World Series, your task as a pitcher is to develop a plan and execute it.

Prepare for pressure and have the confidence to win!!