Athletes under pressure is an incredibly unique situation. Some athletes with promise and high expectations go into a competition and underperform in high pressure situations. What makes some athletes do so well in major competitions? Are the stakes so high that it becomes a positive influence? These athletes may have a mindset that turns pressure into a positive. Let’s explore how pressure in athletics can parallel the pressures that we face in business.

First, we need to understand what pressure is. How you respond to pressure, determines how well you are going to perform. Pressure is all in your head. If you perceive it negatively, you will associate it with negative thoughts such as self-doubt. You may increase your effort while competing and making a conscious effort to be better may not be the best route during a competition. Your actions may become slower and more deliberate instead of your subconscious muscle memory taking over for you. In business, you may not be making the right choices for yourself because you are perceiving this outside influences as threatening. Desperate moves under pressure are not always the smartest decisions.

If pressure is a positive for you, your performance may improve because you have good thoughts associated with it. Recognizing that pressure is a good thing and being nervous is all about the body’s natural reaction to pressure is beneficial to the release of adrenaline. You are ready for the race – in a positive way! Therefore, it is essential to look at pressure differently if you are having negative thoughts. Remember that pressure and nerves facilitate adrenaline. You can also give yourself a pep talk trying to connect your nervous feelings with a better performance. “If you feel nervous, that means you will perform better.” It’s all about association.


The pressure that you feel may not just be coming from yourself. The external pressures that you get from your friends, family, coaches, colleagues, competing businesses, and the media may be hard to block out. Sometimes these people know that an upcoming competition or business endeavor is big and important and they will relay their feelings to you, therefore creating added pressure that you did not ask for. All you have to do is express yourself. Let them know what kind of pressure is okay and what triggers you to become nervous. Being constantly reminded that a big race is coming up may not be the best for your mental game. If you are a parent or coach, be aware that your athletes are looking to you for comfort and balance. As a business owner, try to remain positive even in high pressure situations. If you show that you are nervous as well, your athlete or colleague will sense this and add this to his or her pressure.  As far as competing businesses and the media goes, be humble about yourself. Going into a competition confidently is healthy, but setting really high expectations for yourself in front of other people may add to your pressure.

Lastly, use pressure in a non-competitive environment. If your coach puts pressure on you during practice either by setting high expectations or raising the stakes during practice at the last minute, this may prepare you for facing pressure that you cannot control. Learning to take in the pressure and turn it into a positive will prepare you for race day.

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