Lindsey Vonn and Performance under Pressure

In a recent article on Olympic skiier, Lindsey Vonn, she was interviewed about how her ability to perform under pressure.  She commented how she has grown and developed her confidence.  Here’s her quote from Bill Pennington’s article in the New York Times.

Vonn is not naturally introspective. But when I asked her how she has managed to perform successfully under pressure in recent years, especially since stress seemed to undo her in the past, she paused. “Athletics at the highest level is a sport within a sport,” she answered, looking at the ceiling. “When you’re young, you develop ways to win, and you think they will always work, but then you get to the top, competing against the other top athletes, and sometimes things don’t work. You go home and ask yourself what went wrong, and for me the answer was that I didn’t have enough confidence in my preparation, and I didn’t have enough trust in myself.

“So now I know that I’ve worked harder and prepared myself better than anyone. And I have put things in place. I have a race routine. I have a team of people helping me. I have winning habits. I believe in myself. I have balance in my life. In the end, it’s a mental maturity to let your best come out.”

Psychological support for athletes under pressure

In addtion to working with athletes to enhance their performance, our consultants work with athletes to give them the support to manage the unique pressures that athletes experience. While society may think that those who engage in athletics are healthier, mentally and physically, the evidence doesn’t support this.  Athletes are just as likely as the rest of us, possibly even more so, to suffer from depression, anxiety, addictions, and other illnesses.
In the wake of the tragic suicide of Robert Enke, the world has begun to ask questions about the levels of psychological support available to players who have to deal with the highly pressurised environment of professional football. In England, the Sporting Chance Clinic has been asking those questions and providing that support for the eight years since its inception.
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Home Field Advantage?


Home field (dis) advantage?It’s assumed in sports that playing at home ALWAYS gives an advantage to a team. The roar of the crowd helps push the team to greater heights, building leads and coming from behind, right?

Maybe not. A new story in the Toronto Star tells us the Maple Leafs win at home only 49.4% of the time since 2005 and a remarkable 39% last season.

The reason may be simple – increased pressure to playing at home. The home crowd comes expecting a win, and good luck to the home team if they lose. One ex-Leaf said “Especially if you’re not playing well, there’s the pressure of, `Oh God, if I mess up they’re going to be talking about it in the paper all week and I’ll get booed off the ice’.”


Tryout Preparation

Preparing for Tryouts

Tryouts for any sport at any time can be nerve-wracking. It is huge event where coaches you’ve never met are watching you play, writing down notes on a clipboard, and talking quietly with other coaches while you play.

“Is he writing down something about me?”
“Did she see that mistake I just made?”
“Oh, man, what if I don’t make it?”
“What if I make a fool of myself?”

These are pretty common thoughts that can come up while playing during a tryout situation. They are natural thoughts, and not bad really if they are motivating for the player. But more often than not, these thoughts can take a player’s focus off of playing and doing well, and become negative distractions.

These thoughts can also come up weeks or even months before tryouts and can be extremely detrimental to the player’s confidence and energy level. In working with young athletes, I often get calls from parents that go something like this: “My son/daughter has ODP/club/high school tryouts next week and is very nervous, and it is effecting his/her performance. Is this something you can help with?”

The answer is yes and no. While working with a sport psychology consultant is a great way to learn tools to reduce anxiety and effectively control emotions so allow the player to play up to potential, a week may not be enough time to help fully. Depending on the level of anxiety, this may take a month or two, or it may be able to be accomplished sooner. So while more time is ideal, a meeting or two can definitely be worthwhile for the short team.

However, working full on with a sport psychology consultant may not be realistic, so as competitive youth soccer clubs head into tryout season, here are some mental tips for players and parent in getting prepared.

The key for players going into tryouts is to be as confident in their abilities and as focused on them as possible. Building confidence is a process and is based on these factors:

  • -Positive preparation leading up to tryouts
    This includes practicing your skills (be sharp!), training hard (be fit!), and making sure you are well-rested and well-nourished (be healthy!). In short,
    control the controllables.
  • -Know yourself
    You must know what your strengths and weaknesses are and focus on showing your strengths. Know not only your soccer skills, but also your physical skills (speed, strength, etc), and your mental skills (leadership, communication, intensity, etc). Coaches are looking for all three aspects.
  • -Set goals and stay focused on them
    Set goals for the tryouts based on the preparation you put in, and your strengths. If you are a great passer, focus on that instead of trying to dribble. If you are a hard worker and strong defender, make sure that you focus on that for tryouts. Instead of focusing on the “what if?” questions, focus on what you know you do well, and do it!

You know your kid is the best. As the tryout (or any big event) approaches, be aware of your child’s actions. Do they seem more nervous, more quiet, or noticably off? As much as we’d like for our kids to come to us when they are feeling this way, for the most part it doesn’t happen. If you do notice the extra nerves, here are some steps you can take:

  • -Ask questions.
    “How are you feeling for tryouts?” “Has the coach mentioned what he is looking for in tryouts?” “What are your goals for tryouts?” This is a good start to being able to support your young athlete.
  • -Be positive and instill confidence.
    Pick out a couple aspects of your young athlete’s game that is positive and give feedback. This does not have to be a monologue – a simple “Hey, I noticed in practice how you were talking and being encouraging to your teammates – good job.” or “I have noticed that your ball control has improved this season.” will do just fine.
  • -Encourage extra work outside of normal practice.
    Be a positive force in making sure your child is building confidence is his skills, fitness, and health. Doing the extra work outside of team practices can make all the difference, and a little encouragement from parents goes a long way.

The bottom line for players going into tryouts is to be focused more on what is happening, rather that what might happen. Focusing on the present and the postive, rather than the future and potential negative. Do what you do well, and the coach will notice. Do what you do not so well, and the coach will notice that too. Control the controllables, and you will do well.

Good luck in your tryouts!