"Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking..." -David Bowie
I always thought the idea of pressure in athletics was a funny thing. People say, "this guy is under a lot of pressure" or "this is a high pressure situation". But, what does that even mean? No one or no situation can actually put "pressure" on us (unless we are UFC fighters and some beast is about to literally choke us out!). In most athletic situations, the only person that can actually put pressure on us is ourselves! Our own perspective on pressure will determine if we will flourish and succeed or if we will choke (figuratively speaking) and fail. Pressure is really whatever we make of it.
First off, let's look at what pressure REALLY means. For an athlete, it basically means that we feel nervous or anxious for a big game. Little Johnny Laxer feels just as nervous for his third grade championship game as Tom Brady feels for the Super Bowl. Almost everyone feels anxiety before a big game in sports and it doesn't matter if millions of people around the world are going to watch it or only your mom is there with a Tupperware full of orange slices. We don't feel more pressure just because a certain event is more popular or better advertised than another event. It only matters what we make of that event in our own heads. It's all the same at the end of the day.
So, as we enter May in the great sport of lacrosse, a lot of us are in big games! As the stakes get higher, what can we do to perform our best?
1. Believe you are best in high pressure situations.
When I was six years old, I was playing in my first tournament as a goalie. In the championship game, our team was up by one. In the last minute of the game, a player from the other team ran down the field and took a shot right in front of the crease…and…hit me right in the head! All of my teammates ran onto the field and told me I had won the game, even though I had probably closed my eyes!
That left an imprint on me though in my athletic career. Whenever it got to be a clutch situation, I believed that I was going to come up big. That confidence carried me a long way and it can for all of us, too. Even if we have failed before in that type of situation, we can believe that this time will be different and we will succeed. Believing in ourselves, no matter what, is the greatest confidence booster around!
2. Talk to yourself!
There is a reason people think goalies are crazy…I was certainly no exception. Most games I would whisper to myself, "Just see the ball…just see the ball…just see the ball…". All my defensemen would be like, "What? Are you talking to me?". They definitely thought I was insane! But, this little mantra to myself helped keep me focused when I was most nervous. The more nervous I got for a game, the more I told myself, "Just see the ball.".
Also, in 2001, when I was at Princeton, we were playing Syracuse in the National Championship. We had gotten crushed by Syracuse the previous three times that we had played them, including the championship game the year before. When I woke up the morning of that game, I started saying to myself, "We are going to win this game…we are going to win this game…we are going to win this game." I kept saying that all the way until we scored the goal that beat them in overtime in front of 30,000 people! Just that little saying in my head helped me believe that we could do it and gave me the confidence to go out and play well.
3. Realize that you have to risk everything to win the big one!
Even though I was part of lots of great wins in my career, I was also part of a lot of big losses. My Princeton team got crushed on national television in the championship game in 2000. I was part of a USA team that lost it's first ILF championship in 2006 for the first time in like 30 years! Talk about embarrassing!
But, to win the big ones, we have to be willing to risk losing the big ones. We win some and we lose some. Having this type of perspective can help give us the confidence to go out and do our best in the big game. If we go out and play at our highest level and leave everything on the field, we can be proud of ourselves, win or lose.
4. Have fun!
This last suggestion may not help you win, but man…what I would give to be playing in a big game again in the sport I love! (Unfortunately, if I take one more lump to the head, I am going to be talking like Evander Holyfield with a mouth full of marbles.) So, it's your guys turn! Playing in a big game is the best thing in the world! Make sure to enjoy and love every last minute of it!
So, with that being said…our Denver Pioneers team is playing in the ECAC semifinals versus third ranked Loyola tomorrow! We are fighting for our playoff lives and trying to defend our ECAC title. Big game. Pressure is on...gotta love it.