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How Famous Sporting Figures Deal with Pressure

Last Updated: January 29, 2022

For many sports athletes, the stakes are extremely high and they are under extraordinary pressure. The smallest step wrong or right can be the difference between a huge win or a devastating loss. This pressure can be debilitating but there are a few athletes who have made the art of performing under pressure look easy, and here we look at how they do it.

At times, the world’s most famous sporting figures have to withstand the most extraordinary pressures, as millions of people around the globe all focus their gaze on them. One wrong move can mean devastation, an overwhelming sense of loss, failure, and more. But, a select group just seems to stand taller and seem like they have no care in the world.

The perfect example of this was the NFL playoff game between the LA Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With just three seconds left on the clock, Matt Gay lined up what was to be the deciding field goal in the game; there were over 65,000 people packed into the stadium in Tampa, and over 38 million people watching at home on NBC. But Gay wasn’t phased, as he smashed the ball home to seal victory for the Ram’s.

How do people like Gay achieve such moments of calm when all are seemingly losing it around them? Let’s look at some of the most prominent stars across a range of sports to see how they prepare for these pivotal and sometimes career-defining moments of pressure.

Michael Jordan

How Michael Jordan deals with pressure
GapveneziaCazzaro JordanCC BY-SA 3.0

The enduring image of Jordan’s buzzer-beating shot, which defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA playoffs, epitomized how he could shut out the noise to create magic moments. He received the ball with just three seconds left in the game, with the Bulls losing 100-99, and he played the shot like he was in a pick-up game. “I would tell players to relax and never think about what’s at stake,” Jordan said. “If you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you’ve lost your focus.”

Frankie Dettori

How Frankie Dettori deals with pressure
Paul Friel from Guildford, UKFrankie DettoriCC BY 2.0

While becoming one of the best has its pressures, maintaining that status can be as tricky. Frankie Dettori is still in the midst of a career that’s already spanned 35 years; he won his first race at the age of 16 before breaking records worldwide. He’s won at the Breeders Cup, the Japan Cup, and Royal Ascot, an event in which he’s among the favorites to win again this year, should he ride Stradivarius,
according to the horse racing odds listed on Ladbrokes. Some would argue it’s crazy that he’s still right at the pinnacle of his sport at the age of 51, so what’s the secret to his success? “You just go into your own soul, you try to blackout everything around you and try to concentrate and stay alert,” he said. “The horse knows if you’re aggressive, they know if you’re gentle. They know if you’re positive or if you’re negative. It is a big thing.”

Patrick Mahomes

How Patrick Mahomes deals with pressure
All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, Chiefs 190 (51615696893) (cropped)CC BY-SA 2.0

The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback has risen to stardom over the past few years, leading his team to successive Super Bowl appearances and the Chief’s first championship in 50 years. Mahomes plays a position that demands calm, precision, and ultimate concentration, arguably like no other. He drives the team forward and commands his troops, but how does he stay calm to win games in overtime as he did against the Buffalo Bills? His mantra is simple and shows just how much he uses his emotional intelligence to take away the gravity of the task at hand. Mahomes harnesses a positive mindset, by focusing on the now by telling his teammates, “Let’s do something special. One play at a time.”

Conclusion: How Sports Stars Deal With Pressure

As you can see, the best athletes in the world have a lot in common. They don’t ignore the pressure, but they recognize it before breaking
it down into smaller, bite-size chunks, which allows them to concentrate on the task, which can then alleviate that pressure. Only then can they go on to take the adulation of the crowd.

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PerformanceAnxiety.com Owner & Lead Writer

Anita is the owner and lead writer for PerformanceAnxiety.com. A seasoned musician and public speaker herself, she is no stranger to the very real fear and anxiety that can strike right before a high-pressure situation. That's why Anita is passionate about writing content that helps people learn about and overcome their anxieties & social fears so that they can perform at their best when it counts and live anxiety-free lives.