Peaking Under Pressure

If you’ve read my past articles, you know how fond I am of post-round interviews as I believe they offer some of the best insight into the minds of athletes. The press conference Justin Thomas gave following his victory at Southern Hills this past weekend was a beautiful example of how important the mental game is to the success of a player and clearly one of the keys to Thomas’ victory. Here is the link. I highly recommend watching it in its entirety. 
Although Thomas discussed a myriad of mental game topics, what stood out to me the most was the excitement and pride he expressed being able to play his best golf when it mattered most. Playing their best under pressure is a hallmark of all great athletes. Whereas the ordinary athlete gets overwhelmed by the stress and pressure of big moments, extraordinary athletes see it as an opportunity to shine. Thomas discusses how he experiences these moments at one point in the press conference proudly exclaiming, “that’s why I play golf…that’s why I practice…you want to be in those situations…it’s awesome!”
Before a performance of any kind it is normal to feel pressure and anxiety, in fact, it’s essential. It is your nervous system preparing your body for action telling you something important is about to happen and to get ready for it. So, why are the best athletes able to achieve peak performance under this pressure? In my experience, it has to do with how the athlete interprets the pressure.The best athletes in the world do something very different in these pressure packed moments, they view the pressure as beneficial rather than harmful. Instead of shrinking in the moment, they see it as their time to shine. Thomas talked about how pumped up he got looking up at the grandstands that were packed with people having to execute on the hardest hole on the course with the tournament on the line. Not everyone is able to interpret pressure that way. Most people struggle in those moments, get overwhelmed and crack, just ask Mito Pereira.
So, if you are someone who struggles to perform under pressure, here are some things to consider:

  1. Understand that pressure is a normal part of performance.
  2. Physiologically speaking, pressure is your body’s way of preparing you to do something that you believe is important.
  3. Rather than interpreting the pressure that something is wrong, consider that pressure is a necessary component of success.
  4. Those that see pressure as their time to shine increase their chances of playing their best.

Changing your relationship to pressure will take time, but I am confident that doing so will take your game from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

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