Parents: How to Help Your Pitcher Succeed Under Pressure
Parents and Athletes, Today we want to offer you a few key principles for succeeding under pressure. We care about the success of our athletes both physically and mentally. Because of that, we spend time reading and studying up on the latest research that will give you an advantage when it matters most! Today we are talking about pressure. We are huge fans of the world-renown book "Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most" by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry. Today's blog summarizes just a few of the hundreds of thoughts regarding pressure from this research. Before we start, the key here is that this will be a team effort. As an athlete, you will need to actively work to reframe your mindset for success and as parents, you will need to affirm and practice the mindset that you want your athlete to develop. ________________ #1 Acknowledge pressure as a real threat to performance, not an opportunity to prove yourself Research has shown that athletes regularly perform under their average in pressure moments. We may think that certain athletes are immune to pressure (Tom Brady, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, etc.) but it's only because their successes stand out in our minds more than their (more frequent) failures. Do not buy in to the myth "great athletes thrive under pressure". Its a big fat lie. Fun Fact: From 2003-2006, every NBA game was studied to find out if players shot free throws better or worse in close games than they did on average. On avg. players shot 76% from the free throw line. In pressure moments, 69%. Thats a staggering difference. Every single player studied performed worse under pressure.
The truth is that great athletes work tirelessly on learning how to minimize pressure! Unfortunately, many young athletes spend more time building up games/events to be more important than they are, leading to an increase in the feeling of pressure and nervousness which increases fatigue and slows down the mind/body connection. The very thing that determines performance! Advice to Parents: Try to stay away from overly-valuing incentives for success. They often-times multiply pressure and lead to a worse performance (for young athletes it may be as simple as ice cream and for older athletes it may be talking about scholarships). Advice to Athletes: The goal is to learn to be effected less by pressure than others, not to chase an imaginary world where you will "thrive under pressure". Try to think back on pressure moments and how the important things in life have been the same regardless of the outcome. #2 Social Pressure to Succeed May Be Your Biggest Threat to Success "Those who study pressure and its effects describe pressure as a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance" We all want to be respected, valued, and loved. Unfortunately, our society values sports so highly that many seek this validation through success in sports, thus creating an insane amount of pressure that isn't actually there! Most young athletes do not know what true pressure feels like. They haven't been in a situation where they either perform or die. THAT would be pressure. What most athletes and many parents feel is the pressure to perform or "die" socially. See, many of us unintentionally thrive off of the compliments of our peers, the admiration of parents/rivals/teammates, and the desire to thrive socially. To be the one who got a scholarship, or who won the game, or to NOT be the one who lost the game is, unfortunately, extremely motivating. But these games don't have REAL consequences; however, we build them up and our brains perceive them to be serious, so we feel intense pressure. Since we all struggle with this, it's extremely important we work to fight against over-valuing success. The legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson once said, "I don't see anything in this game as pressure. I see it as a challenge and I have overcome a lot of challenges before...I'm not going to die from this. It doesn't mean I want to fail, but pressure is life and death situations with your family members or friends. Pitching in a World Series game is not pressure, it's a challenge."
With this attitude, it's no wonder Randy Johnson pitched for 22 years in MLB with an avg. ERA of 3.29!! In 19 post-season games (16 starts) he had an ERA of 3.50. Very close to his lifetime average. Again, he is a great example of not being "better" under pressure, but minimizing pressure with his mindset. Advice to Parents: Our advice would be to minimize the social aspect of games...rivalries, state championships, tournaments, etc. The pressure your son feels to perform is probably highly-driven by the myth that team success is important to his value. This doesn't mean he/you shouldn't care about winning, rather to remember that your best chance of winning lies in your ability to minimize the importance of these events and to carry a balanced view of what is truly important.
Advice to Athletes: Its very, very important for you to learn to have a "big picture" mindset. Whenever you feel pressure, take a moment and think about how small the outcome of this game...this season...your career... is in the big picture of the world. The bigger your perspective of the world, the greater your ability to see "pressure" as something you are creating in your mind. #3 Embrace the Mindset That You Do NOT Have to Be Successful All the Time
In our experience, the pitchers who perform best on the field are the pitchers who do not overreact to failure. "Thinking you have to be successful all the time means you are under pressure all the time." Nothing is more frustrating for a coach or trainer than seeing an athlete who lives in a fantasy world where every single training day should be perfect. I've seen pitchers get so upset that they cuss and whine when they don't throw their fastball at their all-time max when we pull out the radar gun. What world exists where an athlete can perform at his best every single day? Not only is this thought process absent from reality, but it shows a lack of experience and will ultimately crush you in pressure moments. Improvement is made in the long run. Improvement is made by showing up every day and and giving 100% effort, not 100% performance. The best athletes in the world are those who do everything they can THAT day and trust the process of improvement in the long run. There is a reason weight training is rarely done at +90% of your max weight. The process of gaining strength includes many more days at 65%-85% of your max than above for this very reason. We are human. You can minimize pressure by understanding you will not be successful all the time. Advice to Parents: Work hard to respond and coach your athlete exactly the same no matter the outcome. Have the same attitude, the same tone of voice, and the same encouragement. Expect failure and do not overreact to success. Advice to Athletes: DO NOT BE THAT GUY who acts ticked off every time something doesn't go perfectly. It shows coaches and scouts your lack of training and your lack of trust in how improvement is made. WE ALL are disappointed with failure. Work hard to see failure as a personal note written to you on how you can improve. Read the note, take it to your training, and show up tomorrow better than you were yesterday. -Coach Caleb