6 Ways to Increase Performance Under Pressure

With competition season beginning or already in the swing of things for many sports, it’s important that we talk about the most overlooked aspect of competing, which is the added pressure.

People say that Michael Jordan performs better under pressure, and a lot of us think we do too. I used to always say that I performed better in a stressful exam than I did just doing homework. Some people will say that the pressure drives them to make better choices on the fly – but the reality is we don’t actually perform better when under pressure. Evidence actually tells us that no one performs as well as they might if they were in a less stressful environment. Even Jordan.
People that stand out in those moments of pressure, like Jordan, are usually able to navigate the environment OK because they are able to dull the negative effects of pressure (but they’d still perform better without it). Also in cases like MJ, the rest of the team performs so much worse under pressure so that it miraculously look like he is the only person who can handle it. In reality, his baseline just started at a higher level.


According to “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most” (Weisinger & Pawliw-Fry 2015) the follow things can help your athletic performance when you’re feeling the heat:

1. Focus on the task not the outcome.

Focusing your mental power on the outcome of the game is not helpful for athletes. In fact, it can be quite distracting. Trying to centre your mind into the moment will help to reinforce the idea that you need to focus in on the task at hand.

2. Mentally prepare and plan for the worst

In your down time, think about your strategy. Come up with ideas to help you even if the worst case scenario happens. Replay it over in your mind. Drill techniques that would be answers to situations and have an action plan – “if this happens, then what?”. Becoming proficient at being a problem solver will ease your mind and your body when the moment of pressure hits you in competition.

3. Focus on the factors that you can control

As an athlete there are many things that we can control. We can control our technique, our speed, our body language. What we can’t control is our opponents next move or the crowd screaming from the sidelines. Focus in on only the things that you know you can change and control. This will easy your mind and put your head in the right place. Use the tools that you have mastered and drown out the excess noise.

4. Think back to past success

Try and remember back to when you were in this situation before. How did you handle it to get the job done? Another benefit of doing this is that it has been shown to increase confidence in athletes and eases doubt in their minds. Use the tool of self reflection to remind yourself of your past success.

5. Slow down your thought process

When it starts heating up on the court or on the mat, it’s likely that your mind is going to start racing a hundred miles an hour. Usually as a result of adrenalin pumping through your body and the millions of different stimuli around you, it’s going to be hard to calm your mind.
Try and practice mindfulness techniques during training and also when you’re resting. Try and focus on the task at hand and nothing else. Put everything else out of your mind and go into autopilot. Becoming efficient at using mindfulness has been shown to increase mental toughness and will help you stay controlled under pressure.

6. Think of these moments as fun challenges and not as a life or death threat

Going hand in hand with a lot of the other points, is the idea that we want to try and control our body and mind when the adrenalin hits. The problem with adrenalin is that it sends very strong signals to our bodies and sometimes it gets a little out of hand. Our blood is pumping, our pupils are dilated, our mind is racing, we start shaking and occasionally our body can’t handle it. You’ve likely heard of “flight or fight” mode, and this is exactly what we want to control. We want to utilise adrenalin for a good, purposeful reason, so we need to try and tell out bodies that this is not a life or death situation, and we cannot run from it.

The easiest way to do this, is to try and see the situation as a challenge that is fun and enjoyable. Tell ourselves that it is not life and death and we have all the tools necessary to get the job done.

“seeing pressure as a threat undermines self confidence; elicits fear of failure; impairs short term memory, attention and judgement; and spurs impulsive behaviour”

The most important thing that you should take away from this is that performing at your peak will never happen under pressure. Likely, you will be better in practice in the comfort of your training environment. What we can change however, is the baseline in which we start at (improve techniques so that when under pressure you can execute them effectively) and the way in which we control our mind and bodies when faced with these situations.


Hope this helps.




Let’s Talk: Exercise as Medicine.

Imagine a drug that can prevent a whole host of feared diseases and ailments. A drug that can make you look great, feel better, preserve your body and increase your sex drive! The drug would outperform all others on the market.

A drug that is free, available at any time and can be administered in any way you desire.

Just imagine the possibilities if we were able to create a pill that gave you the effects of exercise.

Previously, I talked about doctors prescribing medications to my mother instead of trying to find her true underlying problem (which was inactivity). This is something that we see all over the world and it is a result of a few things;

  • Doctors only have around 13-16 minutes with each patient (According to the Physician Compensation Report, 2016). This means that the sessions are rushed and the doctor is only able to deal with the current problem at hand.If there is a problem, a doctor will write a script and send the patient on their way without looking deeper into the problem. If that same patient returns with some ill-effects from the drug, the doctor will prescribe another drug to contract those effects and this is how the cycle begins. The true problem is never really addressed in the first place.
  • Doctors are also heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies. In 2003, doctors were interviewed for a study,  and it showed that pharmaceutical company representatives are the most common way in which doctors get their information. Prosser, Almond, Walley (2003) showed that Dr’s are more likely to listen to the reps rather than the actual science behind new drugs.

    “Prescribing of new drugs is not simply related to biomedical evaluation and critical appraisal but, more importantly, to the mode of exposure to pharmacological information and social influences on decision making” – Prosser, Almond, Walley (2003)

    Not only are doctors influenced socially by these companies, but more often than not, they are also influenced monetarily. Surveys conducted in 2004 and again in 2009 showed that 83.8% of doctors had a financial relationship with a drug or medical device company.

  • Doctors have little education and knowledge about nutrition and exercise.
    This study surveys medical schools and found that the nutrition education in medical schools is completely inadequate with med students only receiving 23.9 contact hours of nutrition (which is under the 25hr recommendation).

Before the time we are in now, where doctors are trying to treat disease, there was a time of prevention.

Hippocrates wrote, “Eating alone will not keep a man well, he must also take exercise.”

Although throughout the 1900’s, the mood shifted from prevention and into damage control mode. People were doing less exercise, their diets were turning into carbohydrate nightmares (making them fatter and unhealthier), pharmaceutical companies and surgeries were on the rise and doctors were prescribing meds to try and control all of the new problems that the Western World was facing. We were doing less exercise and being prescribed more drugs.

The mood is starting to change again. New studies are publishing amazing results of exercise trials and its effects on health.

Exercise has shown to improve heart health, blood flow, increase muscle size and quality, prevent premature ageing, reduce body fat %, increase metabolism, lessen the effects of many diseases (and even cure or prevent some), transport oxygen more efficiently and a whole host of other amazing things that keep your heart and body healthy.

In addition to organs, muscles and bones, another major beneficiary of exercise might be the brain. Recent research was able to show that exercise leads to to less depression, better memory and more efficient learning. Studies also suggest that exercise is currently the best way to prevent and delay Alzheimer’s.

It’s now very evident and well evidenced that just about everyone-kids, adults, elderly and the sick can all benefit from physical activity. The studies are emerging and the results are getting harder and harder to ignore. There is no better time than now to begin – exercise will change the trajectory of your life.