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Thriving Under Pressure: 3 Mental Skills Training Methods for High Level Athletes

As a sport psychology consultant, I understand the intense pressure that high level athletes face on a daily basis. It's common to feel like it's "life or death" in your sport, that it's "all or nothing," or that you're constantly faced with a "win or go home" situation. In this blog post, I want to share three mental skills training methods that can help you handle this pressure and perform at your best, as well as how professional athletes have used these methods.

Reframe your thoughts: One of the most effective ways to deal with pressure in sports is to change the way you think about it. Our perception is our reality. Instead of viewing pressure as a negative thing, reframe it as a positive challenge that you can overcome. Remind yourself that pressure is a natural part of competition and that it's a sign that you care about your performance. Reframing your thoughts in this way can help you feel more confident and in control, which can lead to better performance.

During the 2016 Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles was feeling the pressure to perform on the biggest stage in the world. Instead of letting the pressure get to her, she reframed her thoughts to view the competition as a celebration of her hard work and dedication. She reminded herself that she was there to have fun and enjoy the experience, which helped her stay calm and confident. This positive mindset helped her win four gold medals and one bronze medal, making her one of the most successful gymnasts in Olympic history.

Practice mindfulness: Another helpful technique for dealing with pressure is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being present and fully engaged in the current moment. When you're feeling pressure, it's easy to get caught up in negative thoughts or worries about the future. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to stay focused on the present and let go of distracting thoughts. This can help you feel more calm and centered, which can improve your performance under pressure. A mindfulness strategy is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.

- Name 5 things you can see around you. Look around and identify 5 things that you can see. They can be anything, big or small, near or far.

- Name 4 things you can feel. Pay attention to your body and identify 4 things that you can feel. This could include the fabric of your clothes, the weight of your body in the chair, or the temperature of the room.

- Name 3 things you can hear. Listen carefully and identify 3 things that you can hear. They can be sounds inside or outside the room.

- Name 2 things you can smell. If you're able to smell anything, identify 2 things that you can smell. If you can't smell anything, you can skip this step.

- Name 1 thing you can taste. If you're able to taste anything, identify 1 thing that you can taste. If you can't taste anything, you can skip this step.

By going through this exercise, you're bringing your attention to the present moment and your surroundings, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety or overwhelm.

Develop a pre-performance routine: Finally, having a pre-performance routine can be a powerful tool for dealing with pressure in sports. A pre-performance routine is a set of actions or behaviors that you do before a competition to help you feel prepared and focused. Your routine can include things like visualization, deep breathing, or listening to the correct music (yes there is such a thing). By having a routine that you can rely on, you can reduce anxiety and increase your sense of control over the situation.

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant was known for his intense pre-game routines, which included everything from stretching to visualization to listening to music. By having a set routine before every game, he was able to prepare himself mentally and physically for the challenges ahead. This routine helped him stay focused and calm under pressure, which allowed him to perform at his best even in high-stakes situations, such as the NBA Finals.

In summary, dealing with pressure in sports can be challenging, but it's not impossible. By using these three mental skills training methods - reframing your thoughts, practicing mindfulness, and developing a pre-performance routine - you can learn to handle pressure more effectively and perform at your best. Remember that it's okay to feel pressure, and that it's a sign that you care about your performance. With the right mindset and skills, you can rise to the challenge and achieve your goals.

Interested in learning more techniques? Schedule a consultation to get your individualized training that works for you!

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