Step 3. Practice and Prepare
It has been said that “sometimes things don’t go according to plan because that plan didn’t exist in the first place.” Consistently performing well under pressure takes practice. Coaches and athletes should develop strong practice habits with steps 1 and 2, and also develop a practice schedule that allows for some special ‘pressure’ situations in practice. For example, lets continue to use free shooting in basketball to illustrate a few ideas with concepts that can be shaped around almost any skill and for almost every sport. For clutch free throw shooting, an innovative coach could have his/her players partner shoot 90 free throws each at the end of practice (10 shots each then switch) to establish an all-important shooting rhythm and work on shot mechanics, then create a conference tournament or pressure environment by shooting the last 10 free throws under duress in sets of two (thus more game specific). The coach could play taped crowd noise over the loud speakers during this short ‘pressure’ portion of the free throw practice where each player shoots two free throws immediately after a defensive drill. For every miss, the player runs an ALL OUT Sprint in between each set of two free throws. Players hear the noise of a playoff atmosphere, feel the fatigue of shooting free throws in a game situation, and feel the pressure of having ‘something on the line’ for every shot. In a pressure packed game situation, players will develop greater composure, concentration and confidence because they feel as if they have ‘been there, done that before.’ A smart coach will track the shooting percentage of the first 90 free throws, in addition to tracking the shooting percentage of the last 10 ‘pressure’ shots, in order to measure and monitor improvements.
These simple steps take work from both the players and coaching staff. Yet an important truism in sports is that the pain of not achieving your goals will always be greater than the pain it takes to achieve them. Here’s wishing you tremendous success in your pursuit of these goals and great playoff pressure performance!