Handle Pressure, Win Games

How you handle pressure often determines how well you compete.

Interesting little bit here from Golf World about a tournament last July.

Two golfers, two very different approaches to pressure.

Here’s Rory Mcilroy who had not won a major in a while, and had earned a reputation for resilience ironically because he bounces back after being eliminated.

Carrying the expectations of a nation, he stepped onto the first tee in the first round, felt his pulse race, his hands shake and watched as his tee shot with an iron inexplicably tumbled out-of-bounds. He went on to quadruple-bogey the hole, made triple at the last and shot a stunning 79…..

“I guess the pressure’s off a little bit,” McIlroy said. “You’ve had a bad week, and you go to the next week and you say, ‘OK, I didn’t do this well.’ So you’re sort of trying to focus on that rather than winning the tournament.

Compared to Brooks Koepka who has a reputation for coming up big in important games.

Over the last two years, no one has been better in big moments. At one point, Koepka won four of seven majors he played, which included this year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. In the year’s other three majors, he finished T-2 (Masters), second (U.S. Open) and fourth (the Open)…..

“Every time I tee it up, I feel like I have a chance to make some history,” he said. “It’s a neat place to be. I’m playing some incredible golf right now. It’s fun. I’m enjoying it while it lasts.”


“It will be a fun day tomorrow,” Koepka said. “There’s a lot, I guess, on the line and a lot to play for.”

Koepka clearly views big games as a challenge and an opportunity. As a result he thrives. When you view pressure as a threat it is much harder to compete.

handle pressure
Photo by theglobalpanorama

Solve Pressure

So you can see that being able to handle pressure is a crucial key to success. And, how you think about pressure seems especially important in how you handle it.

Do you see it as a threat or an opportunity? Is it a stress or a challenge?

The offseason is a good time to think about how you will frame big games in the future and how you will help athlete’s to develop the capacity to handle pressure.


For framing to take hold it requires time and many layers of conversation, persuasion and culture building.

As George Lakoff tells us in his book Don’t Think of An Elephant:

“Frames are ideas, not slogans. Reframing is more a matter of accessing what we and like-minded others believe unconsciously, making it conscious, and repeating it till it enters normal public discourse. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process. It requires repetition and focus and dedication.”

So, if you want to help athlete’s manage pressure well during their season, start well in advance.

You might begin with re-framing it into a challenge and something to welcome. Think of Billy Jean King telling us Pressure is a Privilege.

Or, the manner in which Kyle Lowry reminded everyone that basketball is just a game and pressure really belongs in the world of real life situations:

“Just being willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that your kid will see better than what you’ve ever seen,” Lowry continued. “Getting up and taking public transportation an hour and a half away. People like that are heroes to me — just going to work and grinding, and doing whatever it takes to provide for your family and protect who you have to protect.”

These are excellent and honest views on pressure. They are sincere about their perspective. The message must be honest or the athlete won’t believe it. So, you as a coach must believe it and create a culture in which risk is honored and rewarded, challenges are fun, competition rules, etc.

Can you think of the ways you might begin to shape your team’s view of pressure this spring so that they are excited for the challenges that will be present this fall?

Process Goals

Framing isn’t the only way to manage pressure. Another way is to focus more on process goals and things you can control and much less on outcome and things beyond your control.

Here’s Mcilroy in the same article describing how he returned to a higher level of play

“So for me, this week I wanted to focus on neutralizing my ball flight and trying to dial in my distances. All of a sudden, you know, those two little focus points, have made me play some good golf again.”

Gain Buy-In

Gaining a team’s buy-in on framing and process goals is also significant. Let your team play a part in developing goals and in establishing a way to view and handle pressure. How do they see situations? What would they like to achieve?

Here’s Cathy Andruzzi a leadership and performance coach on how important it is for athlete’s to have a say in defining their goals and ambitions:

“Coach and athlete together need to design performance goals that will challenging, stretch and put the athletes in unfamiliar situations to develop new skills and build resiliency. Buy-in from the athlete is essential as it will motivate and empowered them.”


She also recommends using a reflection journal as a tool for building self awareness which will be valuable during moments of adversity.

“Reflecting thinking is a powerful tool for athletes to evaluate their performance. Writing reflections after practice will give an athlete important feedback and help raise their awareness on how their thinking and emotions influenced their performance.”

Start Now

By starting in the off-season you will have time to prepare them for those moments when they face adversity on the field next season.

In other words, let’s think about this now before the pressure is fully on your team and yourself.

Starting these protocols as part of your spring training, or in advance of your fall season, will allow you to develop athletes and teams prepared for the rigors and challenges of competitive sports.

It will pay off when it comes time to win the big games.

You might enjoy this article about Steve Kerr and the Inner Game of Tennis or this one about How the Yankees frame pressure.


Golf Digest did an update on Rory Mcilroy’s journey back to No.1 drawn from this interview in Independent.ie

Here’s a few quotes from an interview in the Independent

I always knew the mental side was important, but I didn’t have a structure. I had a structure around how I practised, hitting balls, chipping, putting, I had a structure around going to the gym. I had a routine, things I did, but I didn’t have a structure around the mental side of the game. I was basically leaving it to chance. Some weeks, when I was feeling great — the US Open in ’11, the PGA in ’12, even when I won in ’14 — it worked. And other weeks, it didn’t. And that’s the difference between then and now.

the Independent

and this

I started to do some guided meditations. I remember doing them at Ballyliffin at the Irish Open and Carnoustie (the Open) in July, and through that whole summer. At that point I had played in a few final groups and hadn’t got the best out of myself, ‘Why was I feeling tentative and tight when it mattered?’ Because there had been times when I hadn’t felt that way.

the Independent

You do it once and you ride the wave but it’s not certain the wave is going to keep going. That’s what putting a structure around the mental side is about — you’re trying to make that wave last a bit longer. And again, it has to come from me. I need to figure this out for myself. It’s not me listening to a psychologist saying, ‘Breathe and do this’. I need to take it on board.

the Independent
handle pressure