Performing under pressure
‘So if you win today, how many times will that be, Emma?’
‘Are you aiming for 10 wins now?’
‘Haven’t you won this enough times yet?!’
‘Any thoughts about when you’re going to give all this up?’
These are all examples of questions that I was asked at last weekend’s IFK British Open. And whilst I know (at least I think I know!), that not one of these questions was asked in order for someone to make a negative statement, all of these innocent well wishes or comments did just add just a little bit extra pressure on my day (beyond the heavy dose that you can rest assured that I’d already given myself).
Despite feeling the heat, I somehow managed to pull out some of the best fights of my karate career so far.
So just how does someone nail a peak performance under pressure?
The truth is, I don’t really know, even after all these years. There’s no such thing as a perfect day. But I do kind of recognise the things that I do on my good days, and I would like to share these things in the hope that they might be able to help other people facing similar, stressful situations (not strictly limited to sporting stresses)!
Do what feels right for you
Wide-awake at 2am with a pounding heart? Don’t lay there panicking that you should be asleep, the chances are that you won’t feel tired with the help of adrenaline during the event. Pick up a book or a magazine for a while until you feel like you might be able to drift off again, and don’t sweat it if you can’t – shit happens – move on.
Talk to people
I quite like taking some time to walk around at events and chat to a people: I find it calming. It takes my mind off the fight to come for a little while, and somehow I feel like it helps me to really connect to the event – picking up positive vibes from others.
When it’s time to focus, focus
Although I love having a mooch around and a bit of a chinwag, I’m not afraid to cut people a bit short if it’s the wrong time. I don’t do it to be rude, but if it just so happens to be at a time that I feel I really need to focus, then focus takes priority. When the time comes, you have to forget about other people and switch on a little bit of selfishness.
Nerves and anxiety can create tension in the muscles around your chest, causing us to shallow breathe, which in turn can up our heart rate and then make us feel more anxious! Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety because it stimulates the parts of the brain that inhibit stress-producing hormones.
Try to have fun
You’ve prepared for this event, so whilst nerves are good (they mean you care about the outcome), try not to let them ruin any enjoyment. I like to soak up the atmosphere, getting a buzz from watching people fight and remind myself of all the reasons I really love what I do (doing this helps to quieten the little voice inside that is telling me that I must be stark raving mad)!
And if all else fails…
Fake it until you make it
These things don’t come easily; sometimes just the simple act of forcing a smile whilst working your way through something stress provoking can make you feel better. Don’t be mean to yourself if you do feel the heat; remind yourself that you are feeling it because you care about the outcome, and embrace your nerves - they keep us on our toes!