The Scoop: Managing Stress

“No pressure. No diamonds.” – Thomas Carlyle

Yesterday, I was reading an article discussing the format for the NFL Combine. At the Combine, many NFL draft hopefuls are run through the ringer of various physical, intellectual, and mental skills tests, interviews, and meetings to determine how they measure up. Many potential draftees will see their stock slide up or down based on their performance here.

The article was discussing another measureable that the Combine was designed to evaluate: managing stress. For two or three days, these athletes are up early for drug tests, warming up and performing skill drills, taking tests such as the Wonderlic, bouncing around from media interview to media interview, and being questioned by each and every NFL team with questions that range from odd to highly personal to bizarre. Sleep is at a premium…by design.

The test is to see how these athletes can execute under pressure. Some of sports biggest moments occur in the final few minutes or innings. They come when you are dead tired, yet still needed to perform.

How do you handle the pressure? Can you make the key thrown or catch to keep a 2 minute drive alive? Can you hit the clutch road FTs that will ice the game? Can you deliver the big hit in the bottom of the 9th?

Life is all about how we perform in pressure moments. We need to deliver key presentations. We need to reach our quota by the deadline. We need to close the big sale by the end of the month. Are we able to thrive in this environment?

I listened to Cleveland Indians second baseman talking yesterday in a Spring Training interview about where he liked to hit in the lineup. He said second or third because he felt comfortable with the pressure of hitting in that spot. He felt confident hitting in those spots because he drew upon his previous success. And, he said he was able to focus in on the moment and have a really good idea of how pitchers were trying to handle him in those at-bats.

Coincidentally, from the article I read, Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who helps train athletes, was quoted as saying, “Some of the foundations of people who are able to excel in intense moments are their ability to generate confidence, ability to be calm and to be here and now and refocus on the present moment. When they do those things well, they tend to be able to adapt really well.” No wonder Kipnis has been an All Star, right?

Everyone generally agrees that these things are able to be learned. So, how do we do it and manage our stress? Visualization, positive self-talk, and breathing.

We have to win the inner conversation with ourselves. We have to be in control of this because it helps us be in control of our thoughts. We also must be able to see ourselves being successful so that we can recall those moments when we come face-to-face with them in the heat of battle. Finally, we must be able to control our breathing. This will allow us to slow our heart rate down and maintain our composure as life starts to speed out of control. We will be in the driver’s seat steering ourselves in the right direction.

We will all feel pressure. The key is how we manage it and how we stay in control. Embrace it. Doing this will help us maximize our opportunities in the pressure packed moments. Then, the results, the diamonds, will be more within our reach.

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

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