Professor Andy Lane
The ability to control emotions under pressure is a key skill.
Cyclist Sir Chris Hoy won a sixth gold medal with the weight of history on his shoulders, and we all watched heptathlete Jessica Ennis control her emotions under the extreme pressure of being the ‘face of the Games’, on top of the usual pressure of competing at the Olympics.
So what techniques help?
1. Imagery – what you see, is what you get.
Develop a clear image of yourself performing and replay that image from a first person perspective, that is, as though you are looking through your own eyes, and replay performing in real-time.
So if you do the 100 metres, see yourself going down on the blocks, marks, set go, and then 9.80 seconds later of imagery you see yourself as the Olympic champion.
2. If-then planning.
what you do is consider the barriers to performing well (if this happens….) and put the solution you want to do beside that problem.
And so if I feel tired, then I will tell myself, I can do this!
Or If I the other team score, then I will tell my team mates “heads up, it only takes a second to score a goal - remember Liverpool vs Ac Milan or Man Utd vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
What techniques are less effective?
Techniques that try to suppress your feelings or try to distract or disengage.
What tends to happen is that actively trying to ignore a thought or feeling makes you think about it.
For example if I said “don’t think about a polar bear, don’t think about one" - many of you have now conjured up an image of a bear.
Telling yourself not to be anxious makes yourself alert to the fact that you might be anxious, and then analysis ends up with you feeling anxious.
If you want to find out more about yourself, whether your psychological skill can be tuned up, have a go at new project “Can you compete under pressure”, a project done with the BBC, fronted by Olympian, Michael Johnson.