This afternoon the Olympic Trials for the whitewater slalom team of USA Canoe & Kayak started at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. The temperatures were crisp and the skies a brilliant clear Carolina blue as the top paddlers in the US started the three-day process to determine the 2012 US National Team and earn points to represent the US at the London Olympics. The outcome of years of training are determined on a frothy whitewater run that lasts less than 120 seconds. This is the epitome of a pressure performance situation.
The key to performing well under pressure is having a clear “target” of what you want to be doing, and keeping your attention on that target. Athletes, performing artists, physicians, and business people are quick to identify what they don’t want: don’t choke, don’t freeze, don’t blow it. Unfortunately, focusing on what you don’t want often inadvertently increases the probability of what you hope to avoid.
So what is the optimal target in these pressure situations?
I first heard this term used by Canadian sport psychologist, Terry Orlick, and immediately knew it captured the “target” for anyone attempting to perform under pressure. The key to being able to race free is to FACE the challenge:
Focus totally in the moment.
Activate to your ideal performance level; calm down or pump up if needed.
Commit fully to your performance plan.
Embrace the experience.
Let the games begin and FACE the challenge…