How Much Control Do Players Really Have Over How Much Pressure They Feel?

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Often when coaches and parents explain to me the challenges that a particular player faces regarding mental toughness they say something like: "He/she puts too much pressure on him/herself".

But how much control do players really have over how much pressure they feel?

In my opinion, usually a lot less in the reality of competition than ideally we would hope that they have.

This is because the pressure a player feels is largely based on the situation they are facing.

For example, players tend to feel more pressure as they commit more of their lives to becoming the best player they can be...

And players naturally feel a lot of pressure before playing an opponent who they expect to beat, but who they fear it is possible they could lose to...

And this pressure can be magnified if the player is younger than them, or if they are very close socially to their opponent...

And players feel more pressure when they are leading as compared to losing...

As you might recognise by watching Novak's reflections on his match with Musetti, even one of the greatest competitor's of all time likely felt huge pressure in the first 2 sets which he struggled to respond well to, before the pressure he felt naturally reduced in the 3rd set when he was losing, making it easier to compete more effectively.

So in reality...

Players typically have a lot less control over how much pressure they feel than we believe they should have.

We therefore, need to be very careful in how we communicate around this challenge.

Because when we assert that players should be able to control internal mental experiences that in the moment they actually can't, we are likely increasing their difficult self-judgment and helplessness to do with the experience.

For example, as well as the normal pressure they feel in these situations, they'll then often also think something like: "Why do I put so much pressure on myself, I should be able to reduce it"?

So as a coach or parent, by aiming to normalise players' experience of pressure, and even reframe it as a privilege as Billy Jean King famously did, is likely to be a more helpful approach than communicating that they should be able to reduce it...

You should also keep this in mind if you are a player.

 

 

 

 

 

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