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Dr. Saul Miller

Performing Under Pressure at the Winter Games

As the Winter Olympics approach hundreds of talented athletes will be gathering in Vancouver to express their extraordinary abilities. A question on many of their minds and the minds of their coaches and supporters is how will they perform. For Canada’s Olympians, competing at home is a two-edge sword. Along with the heightened motivation that accompanies overwhelming national attention and support comes an increased pressure to perform.

In my latest book Performing Under Pressure: Gaining the Mental Edge in Business and Sport I define pressure as a feeling of dis-ease that is inextricably linked with the motivation to be or do something more… accompanied by the uncertainty and fear that we may not succeed.”

One of the antedotes to pressure is confidence. And two keys to confidence are success and preparation. There are psychological exercises to managing pressure that include visualization, self-talk, conscious breathing, and tension-release that many of these athletes will have experienced. Then, there is the confidence that comes from years of preparation and intense competition at the highest levels.

Canada’s men’s hockey team is a dream team whose players and coaches have all experienced the rigors and pressures of repeated playoffs and 100 game seasons. Despite the intense competition they will face, I don’t anticipate that the Olympics will be cause for them to be squeezing their sticks (or sphincters) too tightly. They know what they have to do and they’ve done similar things before.

However, it’s a different story for those athletes with less competitive experience, especially those performing for the first time in a forum of this size and stature, and those who are competing in a single one-day event with little opportunity to warm up. Their Olympic experience may include the limiting dis-ease and disappointment that pressure can bring. The Olympics is a psycho-physical test. It will be exciting to watch who can express their physical ability, focus, and mental toughness under pressure when their moment to shine arrives.

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