Relaxed Under Pressure
Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.
Do you crumble under the pressure of a big race? Does your performance
suffer because you lack the composure necessary to effectively execute
your talents and abilities? Learning how to stay composed under pressure
is a key skill for performing your best in any sport. When you get to
the semi's and beyond, how you cope with pressure is one way you separate
yourself from the other racers. Some people thrive under pressure situations
because they go deeper in "the zone" while others get distracted and their
Why is it that some people fold under pressure whereas others thrive
on it? It depends on how you interpret the pressure: Do you feel challenged
or threatened? You must understand that pressure comes from external sources-the
big race, other's expectations, or your own expectations to perform well.
You can view sources of pressure situations in two ways: as a motivator
that instills feelings of excitement or as a threat that instills feelings
of anxiety. In this article, I present a few techniques for staying composed
when you feel the heat of the mains.
1. Slow Down
Anxiety causes you to speed up your behavior on the track. You may rush
the start or change your race plan. When you feel tense, make an effort
to relax and slow down before the race. Take your time in warm-ups. Relax
and take a few breaths at the gate. Be more deliberate without you preparation
without over-analyzing the race.
2. Breath Deeply
Deep breathing is an excellent technique to reduce muscular tension and
focus on something positive. Use abdominal breathing (breath deeply through
your abdominal cavity or stomach) to reduce physical tension and help
you clear the mind. After practicing this skill for a couple of weeks,
you should be able to relax with just a couple deep breaths. You can practice
this at any time-in the car, during practice runs, or at the gate.
The Tension Contracting a tense muscle and releasing the contraction has
a relaxing effect. It is often easier to relax a tight muscle when you
fully contract it and then release the tension. For example, if you feel
tense in the shoulders, shrug your shoulders towards your ears for eight
seconds and then release the tension.
4. Talk To Yourself
Anxiety increases when your self-talk is negative and self-defeating.
An example of negative self-talk is "I'm a choker. I can never perform
well when I need to", which increases anxiety and decreases self-confidence.
Notice when your self-talk becomes negative and learn to switch your inner
voice to positive self-coaching. Your inner self is your best coach, so
give yourself some words of encouragement.
5. Use it to Your Advantage
The excitement (or fear) you experience when under pressure can help you
if you interpret it as a friend instead of a foe. An increase in adrenaline
that accompanies excitement (or fear) can give you an extra boost of energy
to concentrate better and perform well. But be warned, too much excitement
may cause you to make mental errors on the track. Focusing on how uncomfortable
you feel only accelerates your anxiety. Learn to "feel the fear and do
it any way" by viewing your tension as a sign that you are focused and
ready to race your best!
Dr. Patrick Cohn is a leading sports psychologist who works with BMX
Racers and athletes in all sports. For questions, email Dr. Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his web site at www.peaksports.com.
Copyright 2001. All rights reserved.