Performing Under Pressure - Written By Camzin Martin

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Performing Under Pressure
Written by: Camzin Martin

The 2016 Open is officially over. As the chalk settles and the sweat angels dry up we look back at our annual benchmark another year fitter, and another year wiser. The Open provides such great insight into where we are as athletes, ruthlessly exposing weaknesses (hello toes to bar!) and rewarding the hours logged to correct weaknesses (HSPU for me this year). Beyond exposing physical weaknesses, this year's Open (perhaps more than previous years) really exposed how athletes perform under pressure, but fortunately like physical weakness, this too can be trained.


For me the first workout was a surprise. I approached it differently than I would have if I had been in my right mind (not feeling the pressure) and pushed hard passed the red-line. I was so concerned about giving it another go that I didn't give myself enough time to recover and hit muscular failure on the second attempt. If that had happened in training, I would have taken a few deep breaths and gotten back into it without taking much time, when it happened while the clock counted down on 16.1 I was freaking out and took longer than I needed to, and my score reflected that. If you're reading this blog and this is resonating with you, maybe it didn't go down quite like that, but somewhere in this Open the athlete you were during 16.whatever was a far cry from the athlete you are every day.


Fortunately, I have a great team around me who was supportive and didn't beat me up for failing to live up to my potential on week one. Also, I have a great coach with whom I was able to discuss what-the-heck happened and come up with a game plan moving forward. For the remainder of the Open we decided I would attack each workout like I do in training. That I would come up with a game plan and adjust based on how my body was responding, rather than how loud everyone was yelling, or how fast the athlete next to me was going. That strategy has been working much better for me than being a head case.


But changing your mindset in a pressure cooker like the Open is hard to do, and it takes practice and success under pressure to learn how to "turn it on" when it matters. An easy illustration of this is the sport of Olympic Lifting. Hardcore coaches will tell you a training PR means nothing that PRs only count when under white lights at a meet. To prepare their athletes for the pressure of a live meet Oly lifters do mock meets leading up to the event both in house, and at mock meets elsewhere to simulate that do-or-die environment.


Mentally experiencing that before it actually matters is important so you know how you'll react, and so you can adjust your mental game plan for when game day shows up. So here are some strategies you can employ to practice the skill of performing under pressure:


  1. If live competition freaks you out, do more of them. Nothing replaces the experience gained by being out on the live competition floor, that being said, build success for yourself. If the pressure at WODapalooza turned you into a bowl of jello, build up to that. Crush a few local comps, learn from them, go for something bigger.


  1. If Open style competition screws you up do more online qualifiers, with a judge, and to Open standards. Put something on the line so there's more pressure than "oh well I didn't make it into NoName competition, whatever".


  1. Look at mental training like physical training. When my plan to go unbroken on toes to bar became trying to maintain singles, it was a change in strategy to ensure success. If you break mentally in a workout don't freak out, change your strategy to allow success.

Note: quitting and freaking out rarely result in success, so those are not recommended


  1. Practice being mentally present and focused. The ability to block everything else out and focus solely on your objective is incredibly powerful, and it's a skill to be trained. While you can practice this in training, yoga is a fantastic avenue to cultivate this and comes highly recommended.


  1. Prioritize mental successes over physical ones. If this is your weakness then you need to train it like you would a physical weakness. For example, if having people around yelling/cheering for you is what is triggering you to freak-out, maybe requesting some teammates to come yell at you once in a while during a WOD is the practice you need to meet your goal of handling this noise more comfortably.


  1. Know yourself. Figure out where you break down and come up with a plan to address it. You can read a thousand blogs or strategies on the subject and still know in the back of your head that the advice given wouldn't quite work for you. Only you can make the change to be successful, and knowing what that change needs to be has to come from you and those you train with who know you.


The Open is over. Take stock, reevaluate, be proud of what you've done, be hungry to be better, and go celebrate.

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