Pressure, and pressure situations, create moments which define the entire sport of basketball. We even have our own word for a player that is able to stand up and be counted in such scenarios- “Clutch”. Some people think that clutchness is an innate trait, others a skill honed after years of facing it. Recent studies by sport psychologists can improve our understanding of pressure and our ability to cope with it.
Today, I break down for you a recent study published by the Australian ACT Academy of Sport titled “Performing Under Pressure” . In it, author Michelle Pacagnella, discusses common sources of pressure and provides tips on coping with it. After reading the article, I found 6 particularly important takeaways that you can learn and apply to help coach your players to be clutch performers. Here’s what I found interesting:
1. Pressure is an Illusion!
According to the author, this is the most important concept to grasp when dealing with a pressure situation. Pressure isn’t something that “happens” to us, rather it’s created by our mind. Feeling pressured is part of perceiving the situation we are in. Pacagnella says: ” Athletes need to learn this, because once they understand that pressure is something they create, then they also understand that pressure is therefore something they can control”
2. Pressure isn’t necessarily bad
Players also should recognize that pressure also contributes towards making their game “fun”. Enhancing motivation, concentration and enjoyment are positive attributes of pressure mentioned in the article. Without pressure, our game would be boring and possibly meaningless.
3. Learn to Practice at the Level you Compete at
Only by practicing under the same scenarios you face in game will your players be able to acclimatize to the feelings of pressure. Make training at in-game speed, with in-game pressure variables such as a shot clock, intense defense and consequences for losing. Every aspect of the game, from communicating to your decision making will be sharpened by this change.
4. Slow Down
Players and coaches (myself included) are prone to rushing and maybe even panicking, under pressure. In fact, this not only detracts from the game’s enjoyment, but it also hinders your team’s ability to communicate and execute. Be wary of this and don’t be afraid to lead the way by exhibiting a calm manner.
5. Have a Good Error Recovery Strategy
I found this point particularly unique and applicable to coaching. Your team needs to have an environment where players aren’t afraid to voice their concerns and don’t create further pressure by attacking other players for their mistakes. As a coach, keeping your reactions level, regardless of a win or loss, is important to prevent your team from getting carried away.
6. Remember, it’s About Your Actions!
In reiteration of the first (vital) point, Pacagenlla reminds us that pressure is created by ourselves, and sometimes the best way to get rid of it is to focus on what we do instead of how we feel. Although there is a time and place for discussing your problems, the last minute of a game is NOT that time! Get your players focusing on what they have to do in the play ahead.
One last word: patience is important! Implementing these ideas takes time and you can only expect you and your players to make plenty of mistakes on the way. Having shared these 6 insights with you, I hope you’ve gained a better understanding of pressure and how to cope with it. If you’ve liked this article, how about subscribe to our newsletter? We provide content like this each week. Click here to subscribe now!
Until next time, see you on the courts!
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