Collegiate student-athletes, I respect you, tip my hat to you, appreciate you, watch and support you, through the struggles and triumphs. Whatever path you may feel you are on, it was meant for you. Trust me. You'll see when we launch our podcast with experiences from other high level student athletes!
Being an NCAA student-athlete is a remarkable achievement. I've been there and wish I knew what I did now to make more out of it, in my performance and in my enjoyment. In this blog post, we will explore the various pressures student-athletes encounter, including the weight of the university's history, the influence of NCAA rankings, cutthroat competition for playing time, and the relentless pressure to win. Furthermore, we will dive into effective pressure regulation strategies and highlight actionable steps for student-athletes to maintain focus, trust in themselves, and succeed in this demanding environment.
The Weight of History: Universities often have rich athletic traditions, with a history of past successes that can create a significant burden on current student-athletes. The expectation to live up to the standards set by previous generations can be daunting. However, it's important to remember that each athlete's journey is unique, and success should be defined individually. Instead of solely focusing on upholding the past, embrace the opportunity to create your own legacy. Set personal goals that align with your aspirations and work towards achieving them.
The Influence of NCAA Rankings and Awards: The NCAA rankings serve as a constant reminder of where your team stands among competitors. When you're ranked high like #1 or top 10, there is the pressure of being "hunted." Everyone is coming for you. But you can change that perspective to see proof in your ability to compete with any opponent. Flip it over and you may be ranked pretty low and not seen as a formidable opponent. You can have the perspective of someone who has nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Start to compete with more freedom and risk. Instead of fixating solely on the rankings, use them to motivate yourself and your teammates to perform at your best.
Cutthroat Competition for Playing Time: You may love some of your teammates, respect them, or not even like them. Either way, one of the most intense pressures faced by student-athletes is the competition for playing time. It can be disheartening to see teammates receive more opportunities, and the fear of being sidelined can lead to added stress, especially if you're a unique position like a goalkeeper, pitcher or libero in volleyball.
To manage this pressure, focus on what you can control—your own performance. You can't take anything personally and it does NOT reflect your value as a human or athlete. Take it day by day, make process centered goals, and make gradual improvements. No need to make "Hail Mary" plays all the time to prove your worth.
The Relentless Pressure to Win: The desire to win is inherent in every athlete, but the pressure to achieve victory can sometimes become overwhelming. It's crucial to maintain a balanced perspective and understand that winning is a result of consistent effort, preparation, and growth. Develop a growth mindset, focusing on the process rather than solely fixating on the outcome. Celebrate small victories, such as personal improvements and team milestones, to maintain motivation and keep the pressure in check. By setting realistic goals and focusing on your own development, you can navigate the pressure to win more effectively.
Pressure Regulation Strategies and Trusting in Yourself: To thrive as a student-athlete, it's essential to develop effective pressure regulation strategies. Here are some techniques that can help:
a) Simplify What Matters: What's that mean? It means when we SIMPLIFY what the objective is, nothing else matters. If you complete your pass, did that matter if you were a substitute or starter? No. If your defensive positioning is correct was that because you were ranked 3rd and not 23rd? No. Go ahead and write out all the B.S. that doesn't matter. Then write out what truly does matter. You will see how clogged and cluttered all the noise tries to be. Have a focus cue developed for what truly matters. What you can control, right here, right now. Simple.
b) Do Simple Better: There is confidence in preparation. Create a strategy on how you can better improve the simple tasks of your sport. Do some extra stretching or foam rolling. Take some extra reps like free throws or sets to replicate specific actions you will see in a game. Build your momentum from within. Confidence and preparation are highly correlated. Plus the majority of your actions are not Hail Mary attempts, they're the simple actions.
c) Embracing Pressure as a Privilege: Rather than viewing pressure as a burden, reframe it as a privilege. Recognize that the opportunity to compete as an NCAA student-athlete comes with inherent expectations and challenges. Embracing pressure allows you to grow and showcase your abilities in high-stakes situations. Understand that pressure is a natural part of the journey towards success and use it as a driving force to excel. Instead of being overwhelmed by pressure, channel it into motivation and excitement, knowing that you have the chance to make a significant impact and leave a lasting legacy.
d) Meditation: I cannot emphasize enough how amazing this technique is. And believe me, I did not do this in college and I should have! It will really help sharpen focus and the internal calmness, peace and security you develop with yourself is powerful! You might feel like you don't know how to do it, or that you are bad at it, etc. etc. Trust me I felt the same. I can guide you through your experiences practicing that.
"The high performer does not make adjustments to every day changes in the wind. They stay the course." Whoever you are and wherever you may be reading, stay on your course!