How To Handle Pressure

The ability to play well under pressure is one of the most desired qualities players look to achieve. A player who shoots well in practice but struggles to perform at the same level during tournament play must consider altering the way they approach play.

The first step in dealing with pressure is to recognize and accept the fact that you are going to have to deal with it. To deal with pressure, you must acknowledge it exists and then learn how to handle it.  Pressure is created by how we look at each game we play. Often, we create pressure by how we think or act.

The difference in playing a league match or the championship game of the U.S. Open is not in the game itself, because the game remains the same.  It is in fact the mental attitude of the player that creates the difference. The difference is in the mind of the player… therefore a consistent approach is essential.

Every single game is important and should be approached as if it is a “must win” because it is the only one you are currently playing! If you place more importance on one game than another, then you will be inconsistent with your pre-game preparation, and this can hinder your overall performance.

Perhaps the most harmful six words in pool is: “It all comes down to this!” as in, “This is it, it’s do or die, I have to win this game or I will be out of the tournament!” Putting more emphasis on any one game usually creates unwanted stress and anxiety. 

The objective under pressure should not be to do something spectacular; the objective should be to play within your normal limitations. Normal play is possible in high-pressure situations through proper training and preparation. In a high-pressure situation, it is imperative that you focus completely on the task at hand rather than thinking about negative memories from the past or dwelling on what might happen in the future. You must learn to control the situation rather than letting the situation control you.  You must focus on performance, not outcome! Concentration is the key!

Various meditation strategies can be helpful to relax and “free your mind”. A former U.S. Open champion often thought about previous fishing trips.  Thoughts of peace and tranquility will help your body relax.  Players who are at peace with themselves often perform better than those who must deal with inner turmoil. 

Concentration can be learned!  Just like any other essential playing skill it can be mastered. Players should have a well thought out pre-shot routine that is so detailed that there is literally no time for negative thoughts. 

Players should practice their pre-shot routine just like they practice running balls or playing defensive shots. Proper performance under pressure is a characteristic that can be achieved by playing in the present moment. It’s essential that you learn how to play your best even when you are under extreme pressure and this can only be achieved by focusing on the pre-shot process you have practiced time and again… it takes practice and effort, but “clutch play” can be mastered!