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How to Approach an Important Competition

Have you ever wondered why some athletes perform better on the bigger stage and are consistent performers the bigger the game is?

One can also appreciate that you can even highlight, the better player the better they play in key moments of a game or match.

‘Cometh the moment…. commeth the man’ – It’s a saying that been around for ages. But you have to take a step back to see how this athlete got here to perform on the big stage.

A big part of this is what the athlete and their team do behind the scenes.

Typically - Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” (Schueller)

So, do you wish you could play BIG in BIG moments? Have you ever wondered why you don’t?

Key moments can define careers.

All athletes want to come up BIG in BIG moments such as:

· The gymnast who hopes to nail her routine in a championship meet.

· The diver who needs to get a score to qualify for the Olympics

· The swimmer who needs to nail a turn in order to protect their lead

· The golfer who dreams of sinking a birdie putt to win a golf tournament.

· The basketball player who wants to sink the final shot to win a playoff game.

· The tennis player who breaks at 4 all in the 5th set

There are just so many and varied moments in competition.

Sadly, many, many athletes not only fall short, but often what we call under perform in BIG moments. Many up and coming athlete’s do not even review where they fell down or underperformed. They look at the match or even holistically instead of isolating key moments.

What happens to athletes in BIG moments?

Psychologically, players are different. In simple cases, many athletes simply don’t believe. They just don’t have what it takes to perform BIG in key moments. They don’t want the ball, they don’t want to make the play, they don’t want to take the risk.

These athletes see this type of performance as reserved for a few top-tier athletes.

Psychologically, they subconsciously believe they are unworthy. They know deep down they haven’t done the work necessary to demand the trust intrinsically or extrinsically.

In the 90’s, think back to the Chicago Bulls. They always gave the ball to Jordan when the moment arose. The team and coaches trusted him. But more importantly, he trusted himself.

Another layer on why so many athletes under perform is pressure. The athlete just does not know how to handle the pressure.

Fundamentally, under performing in big moments simmers down to expectations and pressure. For the athlete, the higher you set your expectations, the greater the pressure and, thus, many athletes fail to perform up to their abilities. But if you look at Jordan’s expectations on himself – you can quickly realise that his expectations were not what they think you are.

Principally, three main reasons exist surrounding why athletes under perform in these circumstances:

1. Some athletes see the competition as BIGGER than it is. They place too much importance on the competition, on the outcome instead of the process. When an athlete see’s the competitions as bigger than it is, you create more pressure. This is unnecessary extra pressure.

2. The second reason is that athletes feel they need to perform BIGGER than they ever have in the past. The problem is they’ve never performed like that before in a normal situation or matchplay context. Subconsciously, this uncertainty becomes overwhelming. This excessively high expectations combined with trying to make the perfect play or execute elite decision making is a recipe for under-performance.

3. How the player handles nerves, pre-game and in game.

The key is, that the athlete just needs to play, relax and not overthink.

Let’s examine and highlight some example from the NBA and in Tennis.

In a recent playoff series, The Philadelphia Sixers played against the Toronto Raptors in a Game 7 matchup. The winner advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship.

The Sixers head coach Brett Brown depicted the game as the most important game of the season.

BROWN: “Playing in Game 7s is different. There just is a heightened sense of urgency in Game 7s, and it incrementally increases as the clock winds down.”

In this instance, The Sixers may have felt more pressure as a result to the “BIG” game approach. If you look back at the tape, The Sixers missed their first eight shots and didn’t score until midway through the first quarter. Moreover, the Sixers in the game turned the ball over 15 times and made a few serious miscues late in the game. The culmination of the mistakes which were uncharacteristic cost them the game.

It is well documented that one of the more consistent players throughout that series was Sixers forward Jimmy Butler. Many viewed Butler’s approach to the playoff games and Game 7 different. It looked and felt like he approached it much simpler and had a less frenetic feel.

BUTLER: “We just want to win. Do whatever they ask me to do, try the best of my ability to win the game, and help in any way that they tell me or want me to do it.”

The more experience a player has in key moments and in big games, they become better in understanding what works for them.

Every player is unique. Some players love frenzied, hectic and chaotic build up. Others treat it like any other game or routine.

Now, the athlete and coaches also must understand that the right approach to competition does not ensure victory.

What it does do is fosters consistency and keeps an athlete’s mind from placing unwarranted, unnecessary pressure which then over-emphasizes the importance of the competition.

Performing well in Big Competitions and in Big Moments starts well before the BIG DANCE.

Athletes must fully appreciate that consistency in performance starts with consistency in mental and physical preparation.

It’s the foundation to performing on the big stage.

As coaches, or if you are an athlete without a team, you need and want to develop a consistent pregame routine. Take the time to review past competitions to determine what has worked best for you in the past. When have you played your best? What did you do? How did you feel?

Take stock and remember that focusing on the process brings the desired results. Not the other way around. Inexperienced athletes focus on the outcome. You don’t want to obsess pre-game and expend energy on nerves surrounding the anxiety of winning or losing the BIG game and what that would mean to you. Instead, the technique is called compartmentalization. This will relax you. You want to focus on one stroke, play, point, or pitch at a time. This will make you focus on the present.

Learn more techniques at


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