Performing under pressure – what we can learn from the world of sport


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, you can’t have escaped the football fever that’s gripped the nation. I am by no means a football fan, but I’ve still spent most of today feeling slighting nervous and anxious about tonight’s game. I dread to think how Gareth Southgate and his team must feel. The pressure to perform must be immense.

For the vast majority of us, we won’t ever experience the nerves and pressure that comes with world class level sport, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure to perform. Whether it’s a big pitch, an interview for a promotion or an important meeting. Being able to perform under pressure and not crack due to nerves is an important life skill to learn.

How can you learn from the world of sport to overcome the nerves to win?

1. Rehearse – Michael Phelps, the world’s most decorated Olympian goes through every possible outcome of a race, both good or bad. From his goggles breaking and his suit ripping to him winning. He is then prepared for whatever the race may throw at him. Before any meeting, presentation or interview think about what could go wrong and make sure you’re prepared for it. Have any presentation saved on multiple devices and printed in case of a technology fail, for example. As the famous quote goes, ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’.

2. Never think about what is at stake – for Harry Kane and the team they need, for tonight anyway, not to think about the bigger picture. Not think about the fact that if they win we will be in the first world cup final since 1966. They need to focus on just winning the game. This is the same approach taken by Michael Jordan. He tells his players to relax and take the game moment-by-moment.

3. Routine – many footballers have their own specific pre-match routine. As discussed in this article by the BBC ‘Jurgen Klinsmann would have a cup of espresso made with the German team’s own machine. Less sophisticatedly, Alan Shearer would eat a plateful of chicken and beans And Rio Ferdinand had so many there is not time to mention them all – but they included having the same breakfast, pouring water over his head in the tunnel and playing two-touch with Paul Scholes..’ A “pre-routine” prevents you from becoming distracted (how can you panic when you’re doing your push-ups?), keeps you focused, and puts you in the “zone” by signaling to your body it’s time to perform.

4. Try to think of it as a fun challenge – rather than focus on the task being something big and scary that you have to endure. Think of it as a fun challenge, this will help to reduce nerves. Admittedly this might be a bit hard when it is a world cup semi-final and the first your country has been in for nearly three decades…

Whatever techniques the England squad use to prepare for tonight’s game, let’s hope it works….


‘Performing under pressure – what we can learn from the world of sport……’ was written by Verity Morrish, Marketing Manager, Chiumento Ltd. If you like what you’ve read why not follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and read all our future careers advice and musings on the world of work.

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