Jan 13, 2017
Bring It On

Pressure exists at every level of athletics, and it has both its pros and cons. It can cause athletes to lose focus and give up. Or it can drive them to succeed at the highest level. How do you make sure pressure is positive?

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a sports psychologist and founder of Peaksports.com. He specializes in helping athletes and coaches overcome the mental challenges of sports so that they can perform at their best. He believes the role that pressure plays is essential to achieving any type of success.

“It’s pressure that challenges your ability and forces you to work hard and dig a little deeper to get more out of your potential,” Dr. Cohn writes in a blog on his website. “You might have very high talent, but your performance will consistently be under par without some pressure.”

For his main example, Dr. Cohn looks at two star NFL quarterback, Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Both found their way to the NFL through entirely different paths. Winston won the Heisman Trophy while at Florida State University and was selected as the first pick of the NFL draft in 2015. Wilson, however, was a talented baseball prospect who became a professional football player after being drafted in the third round.

Despite these differences, both have had tremendous success at the sport’s highest level. Both were named Rookie of the Year in their respective first seasons, and both have been selected to the NFL Pro Bowl. Wilson also led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory, while Winston has quickly helped turn around a struggling franchise with the Buccaneers.

“How have Winston and Wilson succeeded at one of the most difficult positions in all of sports?” Dr. Cohn asks. “The common thread that runs through Winston and Wilson is their love for pressure. (It may sound odd only because pressure gets a bad reputation in sports.) Winston and Wilson knew that pressure was the vehicle that could take their level of play higher so they set out to learn how to harness and benefit from pressure.”

Another similarity between these two quarterbacks is that they both sought advice from mental-conditioning consultant Trevor Moawad. He has helped them develop a positive approach to pressure.

“Very few people can look at stress positively,” Moawad writes. “Both Jameis and Russell love stress and they recognize that some of the best things you’ll get in life come from fighting through those challenges that nobody’s going to give you anything that’s not hard. And that’s where I think Jameis really views that as a challenge and Russell views it as a challenge. Jameis looks at pressure as a privilege, Russell views pressure as a privilege.”

Being a professional quarterback is a very high-pressure job requiring a lot of quick decision-making that can often decide games. But the ways that Winston and Wilson use pressure to their advantage can be applied to any athlete no matter the level of competition or talent.

“First, stop viewing pressure as something to be avoided. Look at pressure as the needed element that challenges you to reach your potential,” writes Dr. Cohn. “Embrace pressure situations. Get excited when the game is on the line. That’s your time to shine. Just because you embrace pressure does not guarantee victory but it places you in the optimal mindset to succeed. Practice with pressure. Play the pressure game in your mind during training sessions.”

Instead of letting pressure work against you, start viewing pressure in a different way so that it can work for you. If coaches can instill this mentality in their athletes, they will be ready for any challenge that come their way, in sports and in life.

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