When your team is down by one with seconds left in the game and you are sent to the free throw line, how often do you make it? When the score is tied and your team has possession of the ball with one-minute left to play, are you able to score a goal and assure a victory? When faced with a ten-foot putt that would secure a win, how do you perform?
These are all examples of pressure-filled moments in competition. Sometimes we thrive in these moments and at other times, we crack under the pressure. Fortunately, there are ways to get better at coping with high pressure situations, and one fantastic approach is to create conditions in practice that are as similar as possible to the conditions in games. While it may not be possible to fully recreate that feeling you experience in the heat of competition, even training under mild levels of stress can have a positive impact. Getting used to the anxiety we experience in these situations helps to limit the negative impact of the anxiety we naturally feel during competition. Here are some examples of things you can do to practice under pressure:
- Do 10 in a row of a specific skill, like free throws, putts, or tennis serves, and start again every time you miss one.
- Do a sprint for every missed free throw or penalty kick in practice.
- Set a timer for 1 minute and create a scenario that could happen in the last minute of a competition, like being up or down by one.
- Create distractions, such as playing a recording of the sound of the crowd.
- While reffing scrimmages in practice, purposely make a few bad calls and challenge your team to cope with any negative reactions.
- Videotape practice and tell your athletes that you will be analyzing their performance with other coaches.
By practicing under pressure, you become accustomed to it, which helps you perform at your best when it counts the most.