Coming Up Big Under Pressure

Curry College Hockey Scores a Big Goal

Everyone wants to be at their best when it matters the most. Iconic performances are re-lived for decades and in some cases, generations. In Canada, we have Paul Henderson in the Summit Series and in the United States we have Mike Eruzione in the Miracle on Ice. These moments capture the imagination, emotion, and pride of a country on the biggest stage.

What we fail to recognize is that the “super-human” performance is largely a myth.

Consider this quote from Michael Jordan:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan made 25 game winning shots in his career and he missed 26 times. His shooting percentage with the game on the line is 49%. His career shooting percentage for all shots is 49.7%.  For an athlete that is considered to be one of the most “clutch” performers, his shooting percentage in pressure moments was slightly lower than his shooting % for all the shots he ever took.

We all want our best players to be positive difference makers in important moments and we want our teams to seize the opportunity in the biggest games. The challenge is that as pressure increases, so often, performance decreases.

There is a natural pressure trap for the top players when they get ready for big games. They know they are expected to produce and feel can feel the weight of the pressure.

Behavioral Scientist, Bruce Crowley states that we feel pressure when 3 conditions are met:

  1. The outcome is uncertain
  2. The outcome is important
  3. We feel judged based on the outcome

When preparing for the contests that make up our biggest moments of the season, our primary job as leaders is to help players manage the feelings of pressure and eradicate fear. We want our players to feel free, solve problems and attack the challenge.

The first step to this, as explained by sport psychologist, Dr. Adam Naylor is for coaches to learn how to control their emotions.

Humans can feel the emotional state of others within close proximity.  How often have you seen a coach lose composure on the bench and then the players display destructive behavior soon after? Attitude and emotion are contagious and our ability to model positive and controlled behavior is where we need to begin.

In my Coaching Project podcast, I connect with Dr. Adam Naylor, a high performance expert, with over 2 decades of expertise in the NHL, NBA, MLB, UFC, Tennis and golf.  We dive into the impact of pressure, challenge, and stress. Listen below, on Apple, or on Spotify.

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