02. Experts Corner

The Secrets to Dominating in Your Sport Part 3 – Pressure

May 4, 2022

Pressure interferes with our ability to concentrate, sometimes diminishing athletic abilities, developed over a lifetime, in just mere seconds. However, it’s often performing under pressure when the greatest accomplishments in sporting careers are achieved. In this 3rd blog of 6-part series we will discover why learning how to dominate competitors in situations when under pressure, will help you actualize your true athletic potential.

Training Under Pressure

Competition creates pressure. That pressure will cause you to lose focus; and without focus your technique and performance will be limited. In fact the latest neuroscience research shows that when mental focus is overloaded, injuries are more likely to be sustained due to impairments in motor-skills.

This is why it’s important to train with high intensity to increase concentration, as well as learn how to reduce or even block out distractions. When you train in this state, it’s more likely you can also achieve a state of flow – when everything in the brain and body just comes together perfectly in the moment.

Repeatedly conditioning yourself in this intense training state will allow you to learn how to refocus your attention at will. This is exactly what the greatest athletes of all-time have mastered, and it’s an essential skill for being able to succeed in any situation.

Concentration Under Pressure

We need concentration, especially in the moments when doubts of our abilities creep into our minds. However, when pressure is overwhelming, it deactivates our focus. So pressure is a direct threat to our concentration, yet concentration is also the solution to this threat.

Concentration helps us to connect with our most important goals in sports, and is naturally critical for situational awareness and accurate decision-making. If you have ever been really under pressure in a competition, it’s likely that you tell yourself "Concentrate!” But at the same time, your inner voice asks “How can I do that?”

Taking Control Over Distractions

We have a multitude of distractions when we compete. Most athletes are aware of external distractions, such as crowd noise, taunting by opponents, or something as simple as a shoelace coming undone.

However, the most significant distractions are usually internal. This can be conversations in your head, fluctuations in emotional states like nervousness, or most importantly fear of failing. High pressure situations magnify this mental noise, making even top athlete’s performances crumble in the moment. World Cup penalty shoot-outs are a great example of how challenging internal distractions can really be.

The ability to take control over distractions is known in neuroscience as selective attention. This allows you to consciously choose what to focus on, and what not to focus on. Few athletes or even coaches know that this is a very trainable cognitive skill. In fact it’s one of the reasons we use NeuroTracker at the International Center, which is very effective at rapidly building up the brain’s attentional muscles.

Great players succeed when their skills and attentional control are synchronized under pressure. With this, most distractors just seem to disappear, and the mental space it creates, gives the illusion that time slows down during the heat of action.

Using Dual-Tasks to Push Neurophysical Limits

A great example of training techniques that push an athlete to their performance thresholds is neurophysical dual-tasks. At the International Center we apply this with all our athletes, but only after they have sufficiently progressed their cognitive abilities.

We use the patented NeuroTracker Learning System, where we put an athlete’s attention under high-cognitive load, while simultaneously attempting skill specific tasks. With this methodology we are able to condition any athlete to adapt to situations of maximum difficulty. Here is an example applied to Olympic Shooting.

If we are able to prepare ourselves through situations of maximum difficulty as in the video, the athlete is working with a specific program of 1 ball, adapted to his sport, Olympic Shooting. With the dual-task, he's using 20 kilograms of weight to generate that pressure; that blockade and stress is an added difficulty so that the athlete only focuses on following the program.

Mastering Your Optimal State

Kick Boxing championship success with NeuroTracker dual-task training at the International Center

Now it’s your time to master the ability to reach your optimal state in critical moments of performance. Lots of sports professionals talk about the importance of flow - feeling the moment and mastering the pressure. The state of flow is the moment when everything slows down and your mind processes only relevant information with high efficiency.  

Training in ways that push you to your threshold, not just physically, but more importantly mentally, will optimally condition your attention and concentration. In turn, this will unlock your hidden ability to handle pressure any situations. Mastering both body and mind in synchrony is how great athletes achieve consistent success.

Pressure in the world of sport is a daily occurrence. Sport has become a global industry with more people watching and higher standards of performance than ever before. Reaching your goal in modern sports depends on how you manage the pressure that comes with the territory. At the International Center we specialize in preparing athletes to increase their performance against the odds. If you are looking to train like a champion with us, find out more at the International Center website.

You can also read the first two blogs in this 6-part series here.

The Secrets to Dominating in Your Sport Part 1 - Execution

The Secrets to Dominating in Your Sport Part 2 – Injuries

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