Performing under pressure – A lesson from sport

My former teammates at Great Britain Rowing have just returned from what is arguably one of the toughest regattas of the 4-year Olympic cycle – the qualification regatta. Despite the extremely high-pressure situation, GB were very successful and qualified 10 boats for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

But what’s the trick to making sure you do your best when the pressure is turned right up?

Focus on the process and not the outcome. Simple right? But easy to forget when so much is at stake. In a rowing race, one stroke at a time. In a sales pitch, one slide of your presentation at a time. 

Get in your ‘Zone’ with a pre-performance routine. Athletes will always do a physical warm-up, now I’m not suggesting turn up to a sales pitch dripping with sweat, but do get up and move about, get the blood pumping and air in your lungs. Let your body know it’s time to perform.

Enjoy the thrill and the buzz (or at least try to…) surrounding the high-pressure challenge. The chances are this is something you rarely get to experience, so as masochistic as it sounds, find enjoyment in feeling unnerved, feeling alive. Switch that focus from feeling “OMG this is life or death”  to something like “OMG what an amazing opportunity/challenge” 

Finally, it’s completely normal to be nervous and ‘feel’ the pressure ahead of a big event. This is your body’s way of telling you that the task is important to you. I’m always dubious of athletes that claim they “never get nervous”. I think they are either (a) telling pork pies or (b) should be doing something else as competition is no longer important to them.

Our goal coming out to this World Championships was always Olympic qualification and the team has delivered