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How Do You Play Under Pressure?

PressureThink back over the entire course of your golf career to the couple times that you were under the most pressure. How did you handle it? What were the circumstances of the situation and the true source of the pressure? Did you manage to overcome or did you choke? As long as golf and other sports are played at the professional and recreational level there will be pressure situations.Performance Under Pressure

I just finished the New York Times Bestseller Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry, and it was a fascinating look into the nature of pressure situations and what strategies we can use to combat it. Pawliw-Fry has a background of working with Olympic athletes and interjected many helpful sports analogies which were great for tying golf into the conversation.

The book is divided into three parts. First is an examination of what pressure is and how it’s different from stress. Stress is defined as a constant nagging type entity that comes in many forms and wears you down over time, but pressure is an immediate positive or negative result based on a specific action you might take. You win or lose the tournament based on a single shot or you succeed or fail at the plate with one swing of the bat. In evolutionary terms, you successfully hunted food or you starved, or worse, you were hunted by predatory animals and needed to escape to survive. These are real pressure situations. The authors align many of our present day pressure situations with our evolutionary history.  Included are fascinating data from sports studies supporting the conclusion that it’s mostly a myth that anyone excels under pressure,.  Rather, some are more capable than others to perform close to their natural abilities under pressure and are termed “clutch”.  Among the several nuggets:   clutch hitting in late inning and post-season major league baseball games is mostly a myth, with no hitters consistently able to perform better under these pressure situations. compared to regular season action.  Even Reggie Jackson (Mr. October) never hit better in the post season than the regular season, with his best post season batting average equaling only his fifth best regular season average.

Part two contains a breakdown of short-term strategies you can use to regulate and release the flow of pressure. One interesting study they did was with golfers and the concept of using word anchors compared to swing thoughts. One control group was told to think mechanical thoughts while hitting shots under pressure while another was to think the anchor thought. Anchors were non-concrete action words like “smooth” and “balanced”, and they proved that the group using the anchors performed much better than the mechanical group. This should come as no surprise.  Players who play golf swing instead of golf take note.

Part three describes developing a long term strategy of building a COTE of armor to immunize yourself against pressure. COTE stands for Confidence, Optimism, Tenacity, and Enthusiasm. Each of these are examined in depth with strategies provided to better yourself across the board. Build up each area and you immunize yourself better to all pressure situations.

Most of these strategies will help you handle pressure in life, at work, as well as on the golf course. It’s an eye opening read and I highly recommend it. Get the book and tell me what you think. Now it’s out to practice and work on my COTE.  Play well!