Most of the best athletes in the world have not only developed superior physical skills in their sport, but more importantly, they have developed the ability to perform and display these skills in the most challenging and pressure filled situations.

After all, what good will having elite level skills be if you aren’t able to utilize them when it really counts. Hundreds of hours of practice, strength training and conditioning could go wasted if you don’t learn to compose yourself in big competitions especially if things get off to a shaky start.

I remember struggling through this very thing after moving from gymnastics to playing other sports. Basketball in particular caused me the most anxiety. My performance in the whole game was dependent on the first possession.

I remember one game in particular, we had a huge crowd and I was quite nervous because I was starting for the varsity team for the first time. I had the ball our first possession and made a really dumb mistake. That one mistake rattled me so much, it destroyed my confidence and ruined the rest of the game for me. It was by far the worst game of my career. It even impacted the rest of my season.

Don’t let this happen to you.

If I had known how to handle the big stage and keep my poise, even after a mistake, things would have been very different. Dr. Patrick Cohen has some great tips on how to approach this.

Written by Dr. Patrick Cohen

Are you able to remain confident in critical moments during competition?

Think of a time when you finally made it to the big stage in your sport… You were probably excited to reach the next level…

When the competition started, you were confident but slightly nervous… but things may not have gone your way early in the contest…

Tension or worry probably soared and your performance plummeted. Sound familiar?

Staying confident when you arrive at the next level may seem difficult. It’s unfamiliar territory…

Being poised under pressure is key to reaching new performance heights and excelling at advanced levels.

Poise means preparing yourself to perform like you have in the past, or at a slightly higher level despite the pressure of the situation.

The Kansas City Royals won 89 games to earn themselves a birth in the 2014 American League Wildcard game.

The Royals won 86 games in 2013 but finished 6 games out of playoff contention. In 2012, the Royals were 11 games from making the playoffs.

The Royals steady ascent over the years can be attributed to poise under pressure and led them to the 2014 World Series.

A great example of the Royals’ ability to handle pressure and maintain their poise was exhibited in their Wild Card game against the Oakland As.

The Royals were trailing the As 7-3 heading into the bottom of the 8th inning. The Royals scored 3 runs in the 8th and one run in the 9th forcing the game into extra innings…

The As scored one run in the top of the 12th and the Royals responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning en route to the 2014 World Series.

Royals manager Ned Yost described the poised and confident attitude as his team headed into the bottom of the 9th inning.

YOST: “Well, your mind wants to think it’s dire until our guys come in the dugout, and they didn’t think it was dire. They were like, let’s go, we’ve got this, let’s go, we can do this, we can do this, to a man. It was impressive to hear the confidence that they had in their voice and the intensity that they had in their voice and the will that they had in their voice, and when they came in, I’m like, yeah, they’re right. They’re not going to be denied.”

Yost explained that poise is a habit built upon over time.

YOST: “You have to be in those situations in order for them to become routine, and the more situations that you’re in, the easier it is to handle them. Now, the last two weeks of the season, we’ve been through that. It’s starting to get more and more routine, and that’s just experience, and every game that we play, every high leverage, high caliber game that we play just adds to that experience level for them, and they understand how to handle it.”

Try these tips to be poised under pressure:

Tip #1: Understand that each pressure situation provides you with valuable experience to better manage pressure in future competitions. It’s not only a great experience, but an opportunity to learn and grow.

Tip #2: Remind yourself of previous moments when you rose to the occasion and positively responded to pressure. What were you thinking about and feeling at that time? Relive those moments in your mind.

Your Mental Coach.

Dr. Patrick Cohn