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The Pressure Principle by Dr Dave Alred

It is not pressure that is the problem it is the impact it has on us

Pressure can be defined as ‘the interference with the ability to concentrate on a process, consciously or subconsciously, causing deterioration in technique and decreasing the level of performance.’

Alred’s coaching philosophy ‘rekindle youthful learning and a no limits mindset’

Sport provides the arena where the application and consequence of pressure is most clearly observed, the results are binary win or lose and the spectacle is public.

Book is broken into 8 sections:

Anxiety

Language

Managing learning

Implicit / explicit balance

Behaviour

Environment

Sensory shutdown

Thinking correctly under pressure

These are all combined and inter related in an overall understanding of how to best understand pressure and cope with its impact.

Anxiety

Trying to get the butterflies to fly in formation. Anxiety mostly involves the perception of threat rather than actual theat.

Our perceptions generate our anxiety and of course this differs between individuals.

Can think of it in 2 parts. Trait anxiety – the individual predisposition towards anxiety. Ie some are more sensitive in their perception of threat than others. State anxiety describes the temporary response to a specific situation. State anxiety usually occurs when we take on a challenge that is outside of our comfort zone.

Performance anxiety at root is about the fear of failure. Trying not to fail, plants the idea of the very thing your trying to avoid in the mind.

Good pressure performers are better in the heat of the moment to focus on what to do rather than allowing intrusive thoughts of what to avoid to get in the way.

Embrace state anxiety. Those feelings are going to be present, you will have adrenaline and cortisol washing around, you cant stop that but you can embrace it. ‘It is not about the amount of fear but the amount of courage we possess to address this fear.’ Anxiety can thus be seen as a high octance fuel that we can use to maximize performance.

Olympic basketball coach Jack Donohue, its not a case of getting rid of the butterflies, it’s a question of getting them to fly in formation.’

Language

‘Words are of course the most powerful drug used by mankind’ Rudyard Kipling

Language the thing that glues everything together and defines how you think about a situation.

The skilled use of language can directly increase self-esteem and build confidence, essential for performance under pressure. The opposite is equally true.

Words help us define and frame every situation and prime our response. Is the glass half full of half-empty? Are you anxious or excited, threatened or challenged?

Meaning = the response you get. If you don’t like the response then change the message

Poor use of language – instructions not to or don’t –which bring to mind the very thing your trying to prevent. If you say don’t drop the ball what is the image created in the minds eye? Better to use how to language and avoid generalities – switch on, focus, not good as you cant see these things. Don’t use universals such as always or never and pick up others who do – better to reframe by saying not yet.

Tone of voice communicates a great deal. Positive communication and tone is good but is often vague and lacking in direction – well done everyone.

Use of affirmations to build confidence. Short potent statement that can have a powerful impact in helping us access our self-belief, examples p68

To be effective these statements need to be personal, written in the present tense and proactive and positive, what you want to do. Goals should be realistic and identify the processes that will improve your performance. They must be grounded in fact.

List your qualities as a person

Get a clear view of the processes that will shape performance

Aim for improvement at your own margin

Try to establish a set process or pattern that keys you in to performance

Managing Learning

The importance of getting out of your comfort zone. What Alred refers to as the ‘Ugly Zone’ intention here does not match execution, it’s the place where you try and fail.

Aim to get back to a child like willingness to experiment

Skateboarders tend to learn quicker than golfers because for them falling off is simply part of the process – implicit learning.

Negative bias. Negative experiences have greater impact as the brain is negatively biased. The brain also typically avoids situations where it perceives the potential for a negative experience or impact.

Biggest negatives are the fear of potential failure and the risk of embarrassment in front of peers. Very important to build a culture that supports learning like this.

Ignore the result and focus on the process, eg kicking drills into a net a few metres away, removes the result.

Those who dare to teach you must never cease to learn – inscription on a desk plaque of Mark Gibson chairman of the Australian PGA

Implicit Explicit balance

Examination of how you control your thoughts and the balance of these thoughts as either implicit or explicit which he likens to an iceberg where most of the mass (implicit) is hidden. Refers to the link between the conscious and the sub-conscious.

This section is really about working memory and how its capacity is severely constrained under pressure, the more we have to actively recall under pressure the more likely we will mess up. Chocking under pressure in effect is a systems jam as conscious thought intrudes and interferes with what is usually taken care of by the sub-conscious. Preventing this intrusion by focusing on 1 response or part of the process eg saying bounce to yourself when watching an oncoming ball helps prevent intrusive thoughts relating to a fear of failure.

Behaviour

Looks at similarities with training animals – example of his experience with dolphin trainers where consistency, patience, 1 piece of learning at a time, ignoring failure, enjoyment and celebration of success are the keys.

Karen Pryor is an expert in animal behaviour and training who pioneered positive reinforcement training with dolphins in the 1960s. 10 laws of shaping:

Raise increments of performance by small increments, the emphasis is on improvement based on previous self.

Train 1 criterion at a time.

Vary reinforcement before moving on a stage

Relax old criteria when introducing new criteria

Plan ahead to the eventual goal

Don’t change trainers midstream

If a plan does not work, change the plan

Don’t stop a session gratuitously

Regress when behaviour deteriorates

End on a positive note

Positive reinforcement v.important – Ken Blanchard One Minute Manager to help someone reach their full potential you have to catch them doing something right. Reinforce what you want and ignore what you don’t.

To preform under pressure you need to practice under pressure

Repair, training and match

Repair = learning technique

Training = repetition

Match = deliberate practice under simulated conditions of the actual performance environment.

Environment

Expecting the unexpected

Example of England training with the Royal Marines, doing heli dunk drills etc to get used to coping with the unexpected

Necessity to anticipate the performance environment and how a situation could unfold to get better or worse – presenting potential opportunities or pitfalls depending on the level of preparation and comfort with chaos

Decision making Skills

Examination of fighter pilots decision making skills which are honed by working in a simulated pressure environment. Physical fitness very important here as it protects against fatigue and pressure

Command posture – physical cue to perform

Match commentary – eg learning to drive, mirror signal, manoeuvre, self talk very useful aid to development because helps establish control and boosts focus and concentration, for the pilot; fly, navigate, communicate, administrate.

Scanning sequence – maintain situational awareness and peripheral vision, important under extreme stress because vision and focus tends to descend into a tunnel. Prompts can combat this eg in rugby, touchlines, crossbar, touchlines.

Inoculate for stress, training needs to match or exceed performance conditions. Objective to delay the process of sensory shutdown and through acclimatisation get to a point where physically you still perform, eg get heart rate down from 170+ to 120

Thinking correctly under pressure (T-Cup) ‘focus on the process rather than the result is the essence of performing well under pressure’

Not all aspects of the process but some element that allows you to keep the subconscious in control by keeping thoughts away from unhelpful intrusions. Eg Johnny Wilkinson, 99 in Aus struggling to get into kicking form, Alred introduced Doris – imaginary spectator behind the posts not paying attention. Objective to focus on one part of her – knock the ice cream out of her hand hit the drink on the armrest. Focus on smallest part of the target allows correct focus. The risk in high pressure situations especially sport is overthinking – concisous thoughts intrude and get in the way of an unconscious skill – story of England’s lamentable penalty shoot out record.

Underpinning belief of performance under pressure is that whatever your level you can always improve – start with what you can do