3 Things Athletes Can Teach Us About Stress and Performance

Mark ReaganPerformance, Stress Management1 Comment

athletes stress and performance

“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant

Famous athletes can dominate headlines (and your Facebook feed). Here in Denver, there was lots of excitement around football quarterback Peyton Manning coming to play for the Broncos.

I didn’t know who Peyton Manning was, and if I didn’t live here, I probably wouldn’t know who the Denver Broncos were, either. Although I played sports as a kid, I stopped enjoying it and don’t pay any attention to what goes on at the games (The Broncos won the Superbowl a month or two ago, and I barely noticed).

Sports might not be near the top of my priorities, but there are some important things those star athletes can teach us about how to handle stress.


1. Training for the Big Day

Practicing is important. Knowing you’re prepared can do a lot to help change your stress into excitement, so we rise to the challenge instead of backing away in fear.

But that’s not all training does.

Training places stress on the body. But it’s not constant. Training places stress on the body for a limited time, then stops, then an athlete trains again. Over time their strength and skill increases.

The stress in the rest of our lives is the same. No two people are the exact same in the amount (and types) of stress they can handle. If you want to start handling more stress, place yourself in situations that are going to stress you out.

Slowly, you’ll be able to handle more stress and pressure.

Have you ever jumped into something that was way over your head?

While “sink or swim” situations can make people quickly adapt, they’re more likely to back off from something rather than sticking with it.  

Instead, build up. You don’t have to start out going full-throttle.

But there’s a super important key to this.

Athletes don’t push their bodies 24/7. They would severely injure themselves, and they wouldn’t be able to play.

So why do so many people stress themselves 24/7?

Many people (maybe even you!) are chronically stressed out. It might be you never give yourself a break from your family or work 80 hours a week.

Just like from a good workout, you need time to rest and recuperate. Some people might need total downtime here and there, and others an hour or two in the evenings.

Everyone is different. But if you haven’t been giving yourself a break and are constantly stressed, look at the best athletes and highest performers in the world:

They pushed themselves, but they didn’t get there by destroying themselves.

2. Use Your Team

“One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team. ”– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I was an only child, and I’m an introvert. I can get along without too much social interaction just fine. There’s nothing wrong with “going it alone,” but it can cause huge problems when trying to be successful, and can cause our stress to be overwhelming.

Many people out there feel they have to “go it alone.” Or if they’re a perfectionist they might feel that only they can “get it right.”

This causes a huge amount of extra stress, costs tons of time, and is handicapping you.

In sports, it takes a team to win. Even if it’s a solo athlete like a golfer or a tennis player like Serena Williams, they have a huge team behind them behind the scenes. Coaches, trainers… they’re surrounded by people helping them.

Does it hurt their performance? NO.

But we often refuse to ask the people around us for help, or severely under-utilize the teams we already have.

There’s a reason in football one guy throws the ball and a different guy kicks it. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.

A good team allows each member to focus on their own strengths.

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

Who’s strengths compliment your own?

3. When the Game is Lost… 

“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”– Ted Williams

When you lose, how do you handle it?

The quote above is kind of funny, but it’s true. If a baseball player misses only two-thirds of the pitches thrown to him, he’s considered good. Teams who win the championship don’t usually get there with a perfect record – they have many losses along the way.

What does that say about losing?

Our first try often results in failure. It’s easy to give up right there, and many people do.

Losing isn’t fun, and can be stressful. But there’s a “failure-anxiety cycle.”

Person fails -> They feel a little anxiety around the situation because they “must be bad at it” and don’t practice -> Situation comes up again and they fail -> repeat.

If athletes quit after they lost a couple of games, they’d never have a shot at the championship. Sure, playing can be stressful. Games can be close and get really tense and bring a lot of pressure.

But if you don’t play, you don’t stand a chance of winning. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Fail. Learn. Do it again.

One Comment on “3 Things Athletes Can Teach Us About Stress and Performance”

  1. Pingback: How Do I Tell I'm Getting Burned Out - Mark Reagan Stress Management

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *