Dealing with pressure is one of the things that separates the good performers in business and sport from the great ones. Extreme pressure exists in all sports and all levels. But it is at its rawest in tennis where it is a personal duel in the full media glare and performed in front of an often very partisan crowd.
A prime example is Wimbledon. There are few tournaments as mentally demanding as Wimbledon, where highly tuned athletes push their minds and bodies to the limit. In split seconds, points are won and lost and careers are defined. Coping with the isolation and scrutiny calls for a different skill – mental toughness.
Whether you are in a Wimbledon final, at a vital business pitch or starting a new venture, the pressure is a threat. Every one of us has a psychological breaking point under pressure. One of the reasons we find sporting events like Wimbledon so fascinating is wondering whether the athletes will be able to deliver their best game in the heat of battle.
Tennis stars invest hours preparing their minds to overcome self-doubt, to sharpen their focus and recover quickly from mistakes. As an entrepreneur, the expectation of winning new business or securing funding for new projects can bring pressures that are just the same.
Here are four key lessons we can learn from the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as they step onto Centre Court over the next two weeks.
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Don’t worry about the consequences of failing, concentrate on playing your strengths When you are under pressure, it’s natural to think about the mistakes you could make in the match or to consider the consequences of failure but negative thinking can soon spiral into catastrophe. Champions like Andy Murray have learnt to break these negative thinking chains by bringing their focus back to what they can control – their next shot.
This can be applied whether it is a big pitch or a difficult conversation with a supplier. Take time to prepare yourself well and stay focused on your next move. Staying ‘in the present’ means that you will execute your skills flawlessly and the result will take care of itself.
Turning anxiety into energy – our fight or flight instinct kicks in during uncomfortable situations. Many crack under the pressure but champions learn to get comfortable in these uncomfortable situations.
Former number one tennis player and Wimbledon great Boris Becker believes that you can prepare by simulating high pressure situations. “Novak Djokovic practices the high pressure moments, not on finals day but quietly in the outside courts way ahead of the big game. Those moments shouldn’t be a surprise, you need to practice your concentration to handle the pressure.”
Stepping outside your comfort zone will be a shock to the system. But like any entrepreneur, embrace it – that’s where the fun begins and where you learn your greatest lessons.
Learning the difference between playing safe and taking risks – in high pressurised situations it can be easy to forget your skills, panic and take crazy risks. Tennis stars learn that doing the basics well beats a high risk strategy when the pressure mounts.
Confidence is key
Former British number one tennis player Annabel Croft believes confidence is everything. “Confidence comes from an ability to draw upon your training and everything you’ve done in practise and repetitive nature so that you come through in a performance when it matters and its actually just believing in yourself at the most crucial times.” It is more important to be confident in your strengths and calculate which risks will help you grow your business.
Surround yourself with your dream team – even if you are a new entrepreneur starting a new business by yourself or running an established firm you need to have a great support team around you. Andy Murray has been strict in selecting who helps him behind the scenes: from his physiotherapist, dietitian, his coaches, to the emotional support from home. Do you have the support network you need to reach your goals?
Pressure is a part of our everyday lives, by understanding the challenges ahead and preparing mentally as well as technically, we will deliver our best game time after time.
Jeremy Snape is the managing director of Sporting Edge and a former England cricketer
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