When faced with a challenge, does how you coach ADD pressure to the situation or take it away?

In the build up to the recent Ryder Cup between Europe and the USA, the American captain, Steve Stricker, decided against what has become ‘the norm’ in recent editions of the event by doing two things…

  1. Keep the focus on golf at the expense of any and all themes of ‘war’
  2. Eliminate things that made him nervous as a Ryder Cup player – the inspirational videos and speakers – and focus on preparing to try and take advantage on the course

Apart from wondering if his preference might have denied some players something that would work for them, this made me think about the things we do as coaches in the name of helping people to handle pressure situations.

Sport is synonymous with pressure and many people (wrongly in my opinion) promote the idea that what differentiates the best from the rest is the innate ability to handle stressful situations and that ‘feeling the pressure’ is a weakness (rather than a skill you can learn). This school of thought can add to the pressure – you feel the additional pressure of being seen to be feeling the pressure!!

So talking about and ‘normalising’ pressure as part of competing is important I think and I’m imagining what Team USA did (because they won handsomely!!) to help players manage the undoubted pressure of the event was to…

  • Talk about the fact that feeling under pressure is a normal emotional response that shows, “this is important to me”
  • Not adding unnecessary pressure – by comparing something to a life-or-death battle or that ‘something’ bigger than you (your country!!) is counting on you
  • Focus on the scenario’s when feelings of being under pressure will be their most acute (the 1st tee shot) and work on strategies that will help to manage it

Ultimately trying to downplay pressure by not talking about it could be as bad as building it up too much. The Ryder Cup is a major bi-annual event when everything is discussed to within an inch of its life. We don’t have this capacity in our day-to-day environments yet pressure to perform is everywhere. Would normalising pressure by talking about it more regularly be useful here too?

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