Dr Sam Maniar writes an exclusive blog for Optimize Mind Performance ahead of next month’s NFL Scouting Combine.
During the first week of March, I will be attending my 8th NFL Scouting Combine. I serve as a consultant to an NFL team that hires me to assess prospective players’ risk on and off the field.
In total, 319 professional (American) football hopefuls will head to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend the 2023 Combine. Millions of dollars in future contracts will literally be made or lost based on performance in drills, answers to interview questions, and even body measurements.
It’s no understatement to say that it will be the most important few days in these prospects’ football careers.
It also goes without saying that in order to perform well, athletes will need to manage their emotions and handle the immense pressure and scrutiny they will face.
But what are some ways these athletes, or any athlete, can overcome pressure?
Strategies for Managing Pressure
One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is practicing under ideal or near-perfect conditions. If you want to learn to perform under pressure, you have to practice under pressure. Making a free throw in an empty gym is one thing, but learning to slow your heart rate and block out the crowd noise in order to make a free throw is much more challenging. It’s for the same reason that many golfers do great on the driving range and then their swing falls apart on the golf course. So, in order to add pressure to your training, make sure you practice with distractions. You might even consider implementing consequences for not performing well, such as burpees or push-ups.
Another strategy that can help is to learn to regulate your breathing. When we are experiencing a perceived threat, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks into overdrive. This is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” reaction. In order to ready our bodies to fight or run, the SNS tries to get as much oxygen to our muscles. The way it does this is by speeding up our heartbeat in order to pump more oxygenated blood throughout our bodies. Here’s the problem, though: it’s difficult to perform a skill with a rapid heart rate. So, one of the best and easiest ways to calm ourselves down is to slow down our breathing, which will in turn slow down our heart rate.
I have also found that athletes feel more pressure when they are focusing on things outside of their control, such as statistics, wins/losses, playing time, etc. You must learn to control the controllables. While it is a major sports cliché, it is also true. When you feel pressure, try to redirect your focus on things that are in your control.
Do You Struggle with Pressure?
If you’d like more help on handling pressure, check out the many suggestions and tips from top sport psychologists in the Optimize Mind Performance app. It’s like having your own mindset coach on your phone! The app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.