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UK Coaching Team
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Developing Mindsets Safety and Welfare

How to Help Your Athletes Cope with Pressure

BelievePerform, the UK’s leading source of performance psychology, well-being and mental health content for coaches, offers key advice to enable you to improve your athlete’s ability to handle pressure and help them build a positive mindset

  1. Understand how and why pressure affects them. Help them identify their stress triggers.
  2. Encourage them to control what can be controlled. Behaviours, emotions and thoughts are within their control. Opponents, referees, weather, the crowd and pitch are not.
  3. Help them challenge their thoughts. Asking ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ helps break the negative spiral and catastrophising.
  4. Apply pressure in training. Design a training programme that mimics performance conditions.
  5. Visualisation. If athletes can visualise themselves performing successfully, it gives them belief it is achievable, even perhaps inevitable!
  6. Teach them to respect their body: eat, sleep and rest.
  7. Support them to manage their emotions and understand how emotions can influence behaviour and thoughts. Introduce verbal and behavioural cues (a specific word or action) that help them refocus. For example, a goalkeeper may wipe his hands on a towel after conceding a goal. A judoka may untie and retie his belt.
  8. Encourage them to relax. Suggest that they try deep breathing, ratio breathing or progressive muscle relaxation in training. This will help to control physiological and psychological arousal and help them stay ‘in the moment’, ignore negative thoughts and focus on the task itself, not outcomes.
  9. Help them shift negative thoughts into a growth mindset. For example ‘I keep making mistakes’ can be changed to: ‘mistakes help me learn.’ ‘This is impossible’ can be changed to: ‘this will take time and hard work.’ ‘I can’t do it’ can be changed to: ‘I will train my brain to do this.’

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Related Resources

  • Understanding the Stress Model

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  • Blessed or Stressed: Dealing with Pressure in Sport

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  • Understanding How a Person-Centred Approach Boosts Motivation

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