It’s all tied up as the game winds down to the end. Crunch time. We’ve been told to embrace this moment, to seek it out. Michael Jordan did. So does Sidney Crosby. And Cristiano Ronaldo too. All of the elite athletes do, but somehow you find yourself in the same situation time after time: your nerves get the better of you and your performance drops, at the most crucial time. We’ve all been there before, felt the same way and seen the same results. Stop!
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Let’s rewind and think through that same situation again. The game is tied up; it’s been a great one too. Now it’s time for you to put your final stamp on it. Have fun and end it with a bang, or at least be there to support your teammates and help set up that game winning play. See how different the approach is in this new point of view on the same situation? It embraces the stress that comes with pressure situations instead of fearing it. There are no comparisons to other athletes or other situations, just living in the moment and making the best of it.
Competitive stress can be annoying to deal with during a game, but there’s no way to really avoid it. We can only change how we react to it. This stress can come on before a game, in anticipation of a high-stakes event, during a game and after the game. It is our bodies’ way of forcing us to be more alert when we care more about an outcome. For example, you are more nervous (alert) before a championship game because you care deeply about the outcome of that game. But being more alert means having a faster heart rate and this forces you to think too much about everything else, making it tough to focus on just your performance.
There is an optimal heart rate range that we need to be in to be alert and be able to focus on our performance. This range is between 60% and 80% of your maximum heart rate. To stay in this range we can employ calming techniques to lower our heart rate. These techniques can include meditation before a game, breathing exercises during the game and problem solving after the game to objectively go through what you did right and what you did wrong to do better the next time around.
While you are playing it might seem like every single eye is on you and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the expectations of those eyes. But step back and think: if you were in the same situation, how critically would you be assessing someone else? Let’s be honest, not nearly as much as if you were watching yourself. So it ends up being that the most critical person that we know is the same one that’s wasting precious energy to do all this thinking instead of performing. Not worth it to come full circle like this, right? So embrace the situation and the stress that comes with it. Being more alert is not a bad thing, it enhances physical performance, just don’t let it get to your head!