Pressure to perform at big games

December 1, 2022

The pressure is so heavy. The expectations are so loud. The records are so fragile. 

It’s all down to you.

For teams with years of winning streaks, titles and people depending on athletes to do well, the pressure to perform can be extremely heavy– even crushing. 

Athletes are supposed to carry on the legacy of their team, meet and even exceed the expectations set for them, all without breaking.

Throughout the past few years, on a global scale, athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have spoken out about the immense strain they face at games like the Olympics and U.S. Open, owing to audience scrutinization. They have introduced the world to the weight they bear on their shoulders, ultimately widening the conversation of mental health in sports.

For student-athletes, performing at principal games like conference, sectional, and state championships comes with the pressure to continue streaks and records of sustained excellent performance.

“Obviously you don’t want to be the one to let the track record down. You don’t want to be the one to lose it. There’s a lot of pressure in that in terms of wanting to keep the record going,” said Julia Chan, the 2nd varsity singles player on the Cherry Hill High School East Girls Tennis Team, a team with a long history of sectional championships. 

Especially for individual sports like tennis, it can seem like there is no one to blame except the players themselves. Quickly turning into a mental game, these sports are dependent on calm emotions and focused energy.

Conversely, for team sports, athletes, especially team leaders, feel the weight to set a model example through their performance when they know other players are dependent on them.

Although there are various destructive aspects from the strain, Chan says that she learned to use the subsequent adrenaline to help her concentrate and better her performance, especially against tougher opponents. 

However, for other players without proper techniques, the weight of pressure can lead to a phenomenon known as “choking.” Usually occurring after a position of advantage, players can “choke a lead” while they were originally on the trajectory to win the game. Traditionally associated changes include anxiety, increased heart rate, and a choking feeling in the throat due to a lack of oxygen. 

To circumvent this, athletes and sports psychologists recommend relying on intuitive knowledge based on past experience and taking it one point at a time. 

“You don’t always have to look at the game in the big picture, you can just stay in the moment, stay focused. You don’t have to think I need to win this game, I need to win this set. Just take it one point at a time… Just stay focused,” said Chan.

Remember you can always come back. The pressure is so heavy, but focusing on the present moment makes it a little lighter. The expectations are so loud, but listening to self-affirmations makes them a little quieter. The records are so fragile, but remembering that even if they’re broken, you don’t have to be, makes you a little stronger.

It’s all down to you– so naturally, you come first.

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