Developing Composure in Clutch Situations


This is Part 10 in the series on Mental Strength and High Intensity Athletic Performance.

In today’s piece, we are going to look over how you can manage mistakes and how those mistakes impact your performance on and off the field.

To begin with, how are you handling pressure in an intense situation like a championship game or an extreme CrossFit routine?

The truth is, no matter how good you are and how much you have practiced, or the coaches have taught you, if you aren’t able to stay cool when you are in a critical situation and your nerves consume you, then you will never reach your athletic peak during any high intensity sports performance.

In the dire, clutch situations true champions thrive. An example is Michael Jordan and his control and dominance of the court.

When you are in the middle of a high intensity sports performance, during a CrossFit routine or in the middle of a game on the field, there are some essential things you need to keep in mind.

• Look at and recognize your natural response to stress. Know how to tell the difference between good and bad nervousness.
• Understand what is regularly causing you to become uptight.
• Have a series of relaxation techniques in place to help with your mental strength and understand how to use them.

The thing you need to understand, that many athletes don’t, is that stress doesn’t come from people on the outside or circumstances. You can’t get it from the crowd, the weather, the game you are playing, hitting your peak on a high intensity sports performance or even from your coach.

Your stress actually comes from how you choose to respond from it. Did you see, I mentioned you have a choice? What you need to understand is that there is a choice there on how to react to stress. Unfortunately, for many athletes, that it is do the automatic unconscious approach and not the thoughtful one.

It’s not actually what is happening around you that causes your nerves to act up, but what is going on within your mind.

You might not understand it, but this is actually good news!

But how is that good news when it can impact you in the middle of a high intensity sports performance? Since no one can make you nervous during a competition or a CrossFit sessions and only you can, you are then in complete control of your nerves.

By working on your mental strength training, it is possible for you to come up with a proactive plan that can cease nervousness in the heat of competition, during a high intensity sports performance and in every situation, help you to achieve peak performance each time.

It is important to understand that you do need to be relaxed in order to achieve peak athletic performance. Anyone who is uptight will never achieve it. Imagine doing an intense CrossFit routine. If you lose your focus, you are more likely to end up hurt.

To help you through this process, you will need to look at four critical steps to achieve control over your nerves.
Step 1: The best initial defense you will have is to know how to read yourself. This means being able to determine what happens before the nervousness sets in.

Take a moment to create a nervous scale from 1 – 100 with 1 being snoozing and 100 being over the top as follows:

• 1 – 33: There is not enough excitement in this case and your performance is flat. You simply don’t care.
• 34 – 66: Your mind is piqued and you are in the zone.
• 67 – 100: You are over the top in nerves and you are far too excited. The outcome and performance are too much of the focus.

Mental Strength Plan for Calming Nerves

Now you need to become very aware of your tendencies. Before a competition, CrossFit routine or any high intensity sports performance, do you know where you stand? Awareness is vital to your overall success.

Let’s take a moment to do an exercise together that will help you to read yourself. Take a piece of paper or in your workout journal label the sheet, “Poor Performance”. This will be about being too nervous or not nervous enough.

You will end up experiencing nervousness in three ways:

1. Felling – You will find that “good” feelings are very different from “bad” feelings
2. Mentally – This is the type of self-talk and you focus on, good vs. bad
3. How you end up behaving or acting before a performance; good vs. bad

Go back to the last time you ended up having a bad performance the last time. It could be hard, but try. It could be a CrossFit training where you weren’t able to do the high intensity sports performance or even been a time you didn’t do well during competition.

As you do this. Start to think about and write down the various signals of detrimental nervousness:

• What was where you feeling?
• Where did you sense the energy in your body?
• What were you thinking?
• What was the self-talk you were having with yourself? Was it all about me, my opponents, the game, etc?
• How did I behave?
• Did I end up isolating myself, did I go quiet, and was I my mind around all over the place?

We are going to do this same exercise for when you had a great performance under pressure

Signals of positive nervousness:

1. What were you feeling at the time?
2. Where was the energy centralized in your body?
3. What were you thinking during all this?
4. What was your self-talk about?
5. How did you end up behaving?
6. Did you end up focusing on the task at hand?

Let’s be honest for a moment. If you are unable to read yourself, then you will never be able to achieve peak performance.

When you are able to discern the place you are before a performance will help you to take the action that is required for you to change things.

Step 2: Acting “as if”. You have seen this in previous posts that have made in the past. This requires changing your behavior on the outside and have it start to coincide with how you feel and behave in that optimum zone.
When you begin to act like you want to become, then you eventually become the way that you are acting. You begin to lead yourself in the right direction, over faking it. You have experienced this before and you are reminding yourself how this looks and feels.

Step 3: This is the point where you understand your nervousness and where it comes from. For this, you need to realize you are not the source. But it is something that is internally generated.

This is done based on your focus. Understanding that from here, it is caused. Remember, the source is generated from within you. This occurs during a competition, CrossFit training, even before or after any time doing a high intensity sports performance and when start to focus on the wrong things, you end up hitting a flat line.
But what are the wrong “wrong” focus items? All the things out of your control like any of the following, but not limited to:

1. The judges or referee’s
2. Whether you are playing in
3. Opponents on the field
4. How a coach has treated you
5. The expectations of others
6. Getting sick
7. Your teammates and their thoughts
8. Any past mistakes you have made
9. Any future results you want to have happen

If you turn your focus on the uncontrollable items that occur before or during an event:

1. You’re going to get more and more uptight
2. Your level of confidence will start to go down
3. Performance will suffer

Your mental strength practice, such as during a peak performance and begin able to effectively handle the uncontrollable when things happen. You do this through concentration and focus on the field, during a CrossFit scenario and even while doing a high intensity sports performance.

It is fine if an uncontrollable pops momentarily into your head, you just need to ensure it doesn’t stay there.

Step 3: Take notice when an uncontrollable is there and shift your focus from it. You will eventually get to your uncontrollable very well and how to take your focus away from them each time. Since these are unique to you and your reaction to them is unique, you will need to take the time to get to know yourself better and to find what type of refocusing ends up working better for you. Before long, you will have this down.
Knowing your enemy allows you to prevent their attacks.

Step 4: Next, you need to have dependable and effective relaxation techniques on hand. You can have a couple sets of these. One set for during an event, CrossFit or any high intensity athletic performance. The other during the time you are on the field playing the game.

One of the fastest ones that work is the 7-11 breathing technique. This is when you inhale for a count of 7 and exhale as you count to 11. This will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and it will help to calm you.
You will need a tool kit in place that helps you to center yourself and to get focused on what you are doing. That will be the best way for you to gain control of your performances.

Gregg Swanson is owner of Warrior Mind Coach and specializes in the development of mental strength to reach your human potential and achieve peak performance. He is also the creator of the Mental Strength Coaching Certification, providing the tools to help trainers and coaches get the most from their clients and athletes.

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