Whenever the Olympics come around there is always a lot of chatter about the pressure the athletes must be under. For many of the athletes competing, the Olympics are the pinnacle competition of their careers. They are a defining moment; a true judge of whether or not they have what it takes to truly be the best in the world. From the underdogs who just slid into a qualifying position to the athletes who have been at the top all season leading up to the games–the pressure is palpable for them all. And although all of the athletes have faced that same pressure to perform before, there seems to always be conversation around how the Olympic pressure is different.
One of the conversations that I’ve been having with colleagues and fellow athletes is “Should it be different? Should the athletes go into it thinking that their on the biggest stage? OR should they try to see it as just another competition?” Although I would have loved to find a concrete answer, I think the answer truly depends on the individual athlete. By the time they reach a competition like the Olympics, they are already some of the best in the world at what they do. That level of expertise requires an amount of practice and training that not only makes their skills what they are but also sharpens self-awareness. They know themselves and what makes them tick–for the most part.
Are they the athlete who needs to feel the adrenaline of the pressure to get them going? Do they feel the ‘anxiety’ come out as excitement? Is their racing heart just telling them that they’re ready to go? OR does the pressure feel heavy and stifling, does the anxiety feel scary, does the racing heart make them feel like they can’t calm themselves down? A huge piece of performing under pressure is the perception that they have of the pressure itself. I always find that this is a good place to start when athletes ask me about handling pressure because the reality is that there is going to be a feeling that athletes need to succeed. It’s natural. And for athletes who compete at the highest levels, the desire to succeed is always there…so the pressure is also always there.
– Coach Lauren