“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion. You sink to the level of your training.”
This quote is attributed to the Navy Seals, but I believe it applies to sport movement, too.
When stress, anxiety and fatigue are high, the decision-making process changes for athletes, and if never given the opportunity to experience this during training, they will crumble during competition.
“Rising” to the occasion under pressure is all about simply preserving one’s normal level of play while others falter under pressure and stress. Adding pressure/anxiety can also reveal movement dysfunction and breakdown. I’ve had plenty of athletes move well under “safe” conditions only to lose it when the pressure and stress increases.
The closer I watch and evaluate my athletes, the more I realize an effective display of movement is one that can withstand pressure, anxiety and fatigue. Adding a little bit more of these things to their training can go a long way.
You don’t want to create a scenario where kids are constantly overreaching their limits and increasing their risk of injury, but adding a little pressure to drills that would otherwise be non-competitive and largely non-stressful helps better prepare them for games. It also helps them learn how to train with intent, which is hugely important.
How can you add pressure or anxiety to training?
- Have a winner and loser on certain reps.
- Put time constraints on reps.
- Make reps meaningful.
- Create context, situation (Help them envision how it translates to a game-like situation.)
- Have consequences—NOT punishments.
- Time reps
- Score drills so athletes get points for certain outcomes. This increases the cognitive aspects of the drill and makes it much more game-like.
- Have teammates watch. There’s nothing more stressful than being watched by peers.
- Have the athlete reflect and give feedback after reps.
- Do skilled movement under fatigue. Reduce mindless conditioning and instead condition movement and skill while fatigued. Breakdown in competition is not purely from a metabolic standpoint; it’s also from a perceptual, mental, emotional and tactical standpoint, so your conditioning should strive to include these.