Performing Like a Gold Medalist Under Pressure

In 1996 Muhammad Ali was several years into his fight with Parkinson’s Disease when he was given the honor to light the Olympic torch. The image of him summoning all of his strength and shakily igniting the flame for the games sends chills down my spine.

Olympic athletes are a testament to discipline and focus that represents the best of human achievement.

One of my favorite memories is briefly meeting Michael Phelps before he spoke at a conference where he talked about his struggles with depression.

It is easy to become enchanted by the physical prowess of these individuals that we forget the mental pressure that they endure both in and away from their sport.

To deal with such intense pressure, top athletes have learned to master their mental game as well. In fact, mental health professionals are a standard fixture on Olympic teams to support the mental health of the athletes.

This post will highlight some of the strategies that elite athletes use in order to perform their best under pressure.

Focus on Past Success: When we look to perform at our very best, our minds can be our worst enemy. `The way we think can seed doubt and dash hope in the most confident person. When faced with a challenging situation, we can indulge in thoughts of failure, unintentionally sabotaging our efforts before we even engage in the activity.

Top athletes will remind themselves of what they have achieved to get to this point. They will consider the time put into their work and their praise for previous successes.

Challenging the negative thoughts in favor of your past achievement will support success in any situation.

Planning for Success: Muhammad Ali was quoted as saying, “I have every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

Super successful individuals don’t just succeed; they plan for success before they ever step into the ring.

We practice through repetition and contemplation of our activities to master them. Athletes that know don’t just practice, and they visualize winning; they see themselves standing on the podium holding the gold.

If you think about it, competition is an experiment that lets you know if your plan is better than your competition.

Positive Thinking: There has been a lot of research done on the power of positive thinking. Even writing about it feels a bit cliche but, it should emphasize just how significant this mindset is.

A person can tank their success when their internal dialogue swims with phrases of self-doubt.

Pre-game should include a conversation with yourself where you are reminded of the positive things you have done to get to this moment.

Researches showed that when an athlete listened to recordings of them talking about their achievements, they ran faster, jumped higher and hit harder.

There is a lot that goes into performing at our best in high-pressure situations. Much of what goes into championship performance is too abstract to write about in a short blog post.

If you find that they struggle with performing under pressure, know that this is something you can work on and improve. You can go from being a participant to winning the gold.

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Hi, I'm Matt, and I'm a counselor who helps people achieve optimal health. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in eSports and video game addiction. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.