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MASTERING PRESSURE: BUILDING RESILIENCE THROUGH 'pressure inurement TRAINING, INSPIRED BY OLYMPIC & commonwealth games ATHLETES

Every four years, athletes worldwide strive to turn their dreams of Olympic glory into reality. This pivotal moment often hinges on a single opportunity to showcase a lifetime of dedication. Picture the immense pressure of knowing that this moment could define your life's purpose. For some, this pressure can be paralyzing, while for others, it acts as a driving force propelling them towards greatness. Performance coaches, psychologists and other various support staff assemble. Lead typically by a team of Performance Psychologists tasked with assisting elite athletes and teams in managing this exact pressure [1]. Their mission: to craft a resilience training program supported by scientific evidence, aimed at enhancing their athletes' and teams' capacity to endure—and even thrive under—pressure. A significant contributor to a countries success may be attributed to the evidence-based training program employed by the team of psychologists, particularly the incorporation of Pressure Inurement Training—a tool coaches and leaders can leverage to enhance their athletes' and followers' performance under pressure.


Upon completing this blog, you will gain the ability to:

  1. Understand the essence of resilience and how coaches can facilitate training sessions that foster resilience in their athletes.

  2. Comprehend how Pressure Inurement Training can be applied to cultivate resilience through a delicate balance of challenge and support.


So, what exactly is Pressure Inurement Training?

Once a skill is acquired, the subsequent step involves executing it under pressure to acclimate to the stress of competition. While replicating the exact pressure of an Olympic final is challenging, training under pressure allows athletes to develop coping mechanisms in a controlled environment and subsequently apply them in a competitive setting. Pressure Inurement Training encompasses the gradual alteration of the training environment using specific strategies to heighten the pressure individuals experience [1]. While the temptation exists to subject performers to extreme stress to test their coping mechanisms, this approach often misrepresents the true nature of resilience and how it should be nurtured.

In essence, resilience signifies the capacity to withstand— and even flourish under—pressure to enhance performance [3]. Qualities associated with resilient elite athletes include positivity, determination, competitiveness, commitment, persistence, and passion [4]. Pressure Inurement Training provides specific insights into how coaches can structure their training sessions, encouraging performers to leverage these personal qualities and build resilience. The induction of pressure involves specific strategies aimed at increasing the sense of challenge while consistently balancing and adjusting the levels of support over time. What characterizes a high challenge and high support environment?

In a high challenge and high support environment, a foundation of trusting and respectful relationships with athletes is established. Athletes are not only encouraged but also expected to actively participate in both learning and development. It is crucial to emphasize that this dual emphasis on high challenge and high support enables performers to thrive in an environment conducive to cultivating the personal qualities essential for resilience. Essentially, this fosters a psychologically safe space that promotes sensible risk-taking, empowering team members to embrace mistakes without fear, while successes are collectively acknowledged and celebrated [5].

How do I elevate the level of challenge?

Pressure Inurement Training entails a gradual escalation of pressure by implementing specific modifications to the training environment, eliciting a stress-response [6]. Two primary methods are employed to provoke a stress-response during training, thereby intensifying the challenge:

a) First and foremost, by augmenting the demands of training to mirror competitive conditions. b) Recognizing that individuals experience pressure exclusively during events that hold significance, align with their goals, and involve playing for specific consequences. Step 1: Intensify Training Demands

Elevate the complexity of training by:

  1. Introducing various demands typically encountered in competitive scenarios.

  2. Enhancing the challenge in training sessions through heightened uncertainty in competition-related demands.

  3. Augmenting the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of competitive demands during training.

To heighten the challenge, coaches can incorporate specific stressful events, known as competitive stressors, mirroring those likely faced by athletes in actual competitions [7]. Examples include manipulating play rules or pitting athletes against more formidable opponents [8]. A strategic classification of competitive stressors into 'mental,' 'technical,' 'tactical,' and 'physical' aspects provides a comprehensive approach [9]. For instance, coaches can enhance technical difficulty by concentrating on a singular aspect of technique throughout an entire session while confronting a formidable opponent.

"Sometimes…you position a right-footed player with limited left-foot abilities on the left side of the pitch and compel them to utilize their weaker foot… so they can develop proficiency with both feet when entering the first team’’ – insights from former professional football player, Dennis Bergkamp, on employing technical challenges in training.

Another approach to heighten training demands involves manipulating the characteristics of competitive stressors, particularly recreating the uncertainty inherent in real competitions. Athletes often confront maximum pressure when faced with unfamiliar situations, altered rules, or new environments, inducing a sense of uncertainty [10]. Coaches can inject novelty into training scenarios to amplify the unpredictability of events, encompassing variations in rules, playing surfaces, or equipment. A notable instance of this innovative approach comes from Coach Bob Bowman, mentor to the most successful Olympian in history, Michael Phelps [11].

In one training session, Bowman deliberately stepped on Phelps' goggles, causing them to crack unbeknownst to the swimmer. Phelps, confronted with the challenging demand of swimming with water-filled goggles, later triumphed in the 2008 Olympic final of the 200m butterfly. When disaster struck and Phelps' goggles cracked, his prior experience in training allowed him to adapt by counting strokes to navigate the pool, ultimately securing the Gold.


Lastly, coaches seeking to augment the challenge can enhance the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of competition demands during training [12]. Athletes experience heightened pressure when competitive stressors are both physically and mentally more intense, occurring more frequently, and extending for different durations than typical. For instance, a short-term stressor such as an unpleasant comment from a spectator during a match can be simulated more frequently in training to replicate the pressure athletes may face in real-life situations." Step 2: Elevate Sensations of Pressure

Ensure an impactful increase in pressure by:

  1. Aligning training demands with performers' goals, emphasizing their importance and relevance.

  2. Implementing performance-based consequences involving rewards, forfeits, or external evaluations to amplify the sense of scrutiny.


While competitive stressors themselves may be perceived negatively, they do not inherently induce feelings of pressure. Coaches need to recognize that pressure is only felt when athletes perceive these stressors as potential threats to their personal high-performance goals [13]. A coach's understanding of individual goals enables the creation of training demands tailored to each athlete. For instance, an athlete aiming to excel in front of large audiences would experience heightened pressure when training in the presence of a sizable crowd. It is crucial to note that implementing generic 'coach-led' methods to increase pressure may not effectively enhance the actual feelings of pressure if they do not align with the athletes' specific goals.


A final strategy to influence sensations of pressure involves employing consequences during training. This could encompass positive reinforcements for achievement, imposing forfeits for failing to meet standards, or subjecting athletes to evaluations by external judges [8]. For example, creating a circle of onlookers around two individuals being scrutinized intensifies the pressure. It is imperative to foster an environment where athletes do not feel ridiculed or apprehensive about making mistakes. An excessively challenging atmosphere lacking ample support may result in athletes avoiding risks and fearing failure [14]. It is essential to remember that, to establish a high challenge and high support environment, athletes must trust their coach and believe in the value of everyone on the team.

"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take." – Wisdom from former Olympic hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, advocating for taking calculated risks.

Summary on How to Amplify Challenge:

  1. Introduce elements of stress typically encountered in competitions during training sessions.

  2. Enhance the unpredictability of training demands to enable athletes to apply their skills in diverse scenarios.

  3. Heighten the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of training exercises to mirror competitive pressures.

  4. Ensure that training demands align with the importance and relevance of performers' goals.

  5. Utilize consequences such as forfeits, rewards, or external evaluations to elevate the sense of judgment.


How to Augment Support:

In tandem with intensifying challenges, Pressure Inurement Training emphasizes the need to bolster support for individuals, enhancing their personal qualities like positivity, determination, and passion to foster resilience [1]. This involves coaches adjusting and increasing support levels to instill confidence in athletes when facing greater challenges.

Step 1: Equip Athletes with Psychological Skills to Navigate Pressure

Athletes must acquire psychological skills to effectively manage additional pressure, ultimately improving performance [15]. These skills encompass halting negative thoughts, promoting positive self-talk, and refining mental imagery techniques before competitions. Mastery of these psychological skills enables athletes to transform the potentially debilitating effects of pressure into a positive experience during competition, thereby enhancing overall performance. These skills are honed during training sessions, providing athletes with a non-threatening environment to practice coping with heightened challenges. Pep Guardiola, the manager of Manchester City F.C., underscores this sentiment, stating, "Pressure is a privilege; it only comes to those who earn it" – echoing the positive perspective on pressure shared by former World No.1 in tennis, Billie-Jean King. Step 2: Guide and Reflect with Athletes

At the commencement and conclusion of each training session, engage in briefings and debriefings with athletes.

Prior to delving into Pressure Inurement Training, articulate to athletes the significance of confronting heightened demands during training. This explanation, provided at the outset of sessions, serves to equip athletes with coping mechanisms for pressure [16]. Briefing at the onset helps forestall the emergence of relentless pressure, safeguarding the well-being of athletes [17]. For instance, coaches can emphasize the purpose of a drill: "This exercise is crucial for enhancing decision-making within a limited timeframe, which, in turn, sharpens your reactions to opponents. Improving your decision-making under time constraints enhances performance under pressure, aiding you in achieving your goal of securing more points."

Subsequently, after each Pressure Inurement Training session, coaches should conduct a debrief to assess how athletes navigated the additional challenges and their subsequent reactions (e.g., 'How did you cope with the added challenge?'). The focus of the discussion should center on how athletes handled pressure and its impact on performance. In instances where athletes struggle to cope with heightened pressure, leading to negative outcomes, coaches should consider a temporary reduction in challenge accompanied by increased support. Conversely, if athletes exhibit positive responses, coaches can contemplate elevating the challenge further [1].

Summary on Enhancing Support:

  1. Foster the acquisition and application of psychological skills (e.g., positive self-talk, mental imagery) during training sessions.

  2. Initiate briefings and debriefings at the start and end of sessions, recognizing that individuals may respond differently to pressure.

  3. In cases of negative responses, contemplate amplifying support while temporarily reducing challenge. Conversely, in instances of positive responses, explore the possibility of increasing the challenge. Balancing Challenge and Support: The Role of Verbal Feedback Critical to achieving equilibrium between challenge and support is the coach's adept delivery of verbal feedback during Pressure Inurement Training. This hinges on closely monitoring the athlete's response to heightened challenges, assessing both psychological reactions and performance outcomes. Scenario 1: Overwhelming Challenge with Insufficient Support When individuals struggle to cope with intensified challenges, negative responses may manifest, be it in behavioral terms (e.g., withdrawal or aggression) or psychological aspects (e.g., anxiety or frustration). In such instances, coaches should provide motivational feedback coupled with increased support. Motivational feedback involves encouragement, positive reinforcement of commendable efforts, and specific guidance on improvement to foster learning [17]. Examples of motivational feedback: Scenario 2: Optimal Balance with High Challenge and Support When an individual responds positively, exhibiting successful adaptation to heightened challenges (e.g., demonstrating happiness, determination, or a willingness to intensify training), coaches should provide developmental feedback accompanied by an increase in challenge. Developmental feedback informs athletes on further improvement, aiming to enhance their capacity to navigate greater challenges [18].

  • "Today's skill focus aligns with your performance goals."

  • "Your efforts to confront the added challenge are commendable."

  • "You handled the challenge effectively by focusing on controlled breathing."

  • "Consider trying this approach next time to enhance your performance."

  1. Examples of developmental feedback:

  • "What have you learned that could be applied in a match?"

  • "Excellent job! Identify one aspect you could refine for even better results."

  • "You've mastered this skill; now, let's elevate the difficulty."

  1. Summary of Verbal Feedback Utilization: Key Takeaways from the Blog:

  2. Diligently observe individual responses to heightened challenges, incorporating questions and noting changes in behavior and performance.

  3. Employ motivational feedback when an individual struggles to adapt, necessitating increased support and temporary challenge reduction.

  4. Utilize developmental feedback when an athlete responds positively and demonstrates successful adaptation, warranting a further increase in challenge when appropriate.

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