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How to perform under pressure like a Premier League player

How to perform under pressure like a Premier League player

5 min read
  • Sport psychology

“Football is played with your head. Your feet are just the tools.” – Andrea Pirlo

Players in the Premier League are fast on their feet, make quick decisions and work extremely well under pressure. These skills don’t just come naturally: they had to practise to perfect it.

However, you don’t need to play in the Premier League to perform well under pressure. With the right training, anyone can do it.

So, what can you do to help your athletes handle pressure like top Premier League players? The sport psychology team at InnerDrive have been researching this for you, and here’s what we’ve found…

How can pressure affect your athlete’s performance?

Do your athletes feel like Ballon D’or winners in training but lose their feet in a match? That’s probably due to the pressure. High amounts of it affect us all in different ways and can change our behaviour – for example, it can:

  • Impact our ability to make decisions
  • Increase anxiety levels
  • Flood our minds with negative thoughts
  • Decrease our motivation

So, just like our we train our bodies when we struggle with a skill, we must also train our minds. To overcome performing under pressure, the solution is pressure training.

What is pressure training and why should you do it?

Pressure training is a type of intervention that applies pressure on athletes while they practise their sport. Coaches create a “pressure situation” for their athletes in training that mimics what they are likely to experience in matches. This helps the athlete learn to perform under pressure.

A fascinating study looked at the effect pressure training had on elite footballers. Researchers identified that this type of training has three main benefits…

1. It increases confidence

Players reported an increase in confidence when performing under pressure after pressure training. The footballers had an increase in self-belief, allowing them to play better in matches.

2. Players control their thoughts better

Pressure training helped the athletes to use more sport psychology techniques such as positive self-talk and negative thought stopping. This meant the footballers had better control of the pressure and did not allow it to disrupt their thoughts. This also allowed players to have better control of their emotions, which helped them perform better under pressure.

3. Redefining pressure

After the pressure training sessions, athletes were able to redefine pressure. This allowed them to have a less threatening view of pressure and see it as positive instead. Pressure moments were seen as an opportunity for growth and challenge – and this change in the players’ mindsets helped them to perform better.

So, what does this mean for you?

There are different things you can introduce to your athletes’ training sessions to help them battle pressure. Adding pressure elements to sporting situations helps your players to familiarise themselves with it, allowing them to better handle it.

Here are three things that elite footballers are doing to be on their top form in matches…

1. Replicate match pressure in training

When your athletes are training is the best time to replicate pressure situations they could experience in matches. Playing crowd noises for example will induce a pressure atmosphere by creating the idea that spectators are present. This means players can get used to this element, which will impact them less during matches.

2. Emphasise the comparative nature of sport

If you tell your players you will assess them on their skill and abilities during match play, this adds pressure. You could create a leader board of which players have performed the best, which will encourage your athletes to work harder when under pressure to perform better.

3. Establish performance incentives and consequences

When your players perform well, give incentives that reflect what a Premier League environment may look like, such as getting to start the next match. On the other hand, if they don’t perform up to your expectations of them, consequences could include anything from running laps around the pitch to not getting to play the next match.

Train your mind as well as your body. Unlock your full potential with sport psychology coaching.

How to create the ideal pressure training session

So, have we convinced you to start pressure training yet?

If so, try a few interventions to kickstart your athletes’ pressure training journey. Here are our top four…

1. Increase players’ understanding of coping resources

Try showing your players how different coping strategies such as positive self-talk could be used in pressure situations. If athletes understand that pressure could cause negative thoughts to arise, they may start using more coping strategies when they need encouragement.

2. Help athletes to understand the impact of pressure on emotions

If your players know that pressure can cause a build-up of negative emotions and thoughts, this could allow for better self-reflection. Your athletes can recognise when pressure is impacting them and use what they’ve learnt to minimise this effect.

3. Encourage your athletes to reframe situations

Try to help your players understand that pressure is not always bad for performance.

When your athletes realise that they can use pressure as a motivator, this will encourage them to thrive under it and use it to their advantage.

4. Try promoting the use of a self-reflective diary

A self-reflective diary encourages athletes to be aware of what they’ve learnt. Players can note down how and what they felt at the time they were under pressure and reflect upon what they can do in the future to minimise the impact of these experiences.

Asking your players questions can also encourage reflection. These can focus on recall of specific moments in the game or training where they felt pressure. To further encourage this, try asking them how they responded to the pressure and what they could do to better cope if they find themselves in this situation again.

Final thoughts

All athletes experience pressure when competing. However, the difference between a good athlete and a champion is how well they cope under that pressure.

If you can train your athletes to reframe their perceptions of pressure, it will no longer be something they fear but something they thrive under. Performing well under pressure it a great skill to have – help your athletes do this better.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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