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By Nathalie Garcia, Bewolfish psychologist specialized in sports psychology and coaching with experience in high-performance sports psychology, former athlete.

Being a footballer and playing in a final means being under an enormous pressure. But, what is the pressure? And, moreover, why does it appear? And, even more important, what can we do to control it?

In the media and sports debates, the pressure is usually considered an abstract and uncontrollable concept. But the reality is that we can control it. To do so, we must first understand what it is and where it comes from in order to be able to do something to manage it.

“The magnitude of the pressure

that depends, among other things,

on the number of spectators

generated by the event

Before explaining exactly what pressure is, we will analyse some variables that modulate it. Depending on who exercises it, we mainly have two types of pressure. The internal is the one that is exercised by ourselves, and the external is the one that falls on us but that is exercised by other people. For example, a player who is in the process of recovering from an injury may be pressured by a coach, the fans, or other people, to join the team as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, we have the magnitude of the pressure that depends, among other things, on the number of spectators generated by the event. The larger the audience, the greater the pressure generated. The last Soccer World Cup in Brazil, for example, obtained an audience of more than three thousand two hundred million viewers.

In addition, each athlete tends to certain psychological characteristics that generate more or less pressure. For example, the locus of control which is the perception of control we have over the things that happen to us. An athlete with an internal control locus will feel less external pressure than one with an external control locus.

“The players who focus on achieving

success cope better with the pressure

because they do not give any 

importance to the defeat

Another characteristic is whether the athlete is a person who focuses on achieving success or on avoiding failure, since there will also be differences. The players who focus on achieving success cope better with the pressure of these events because they do not give any importance to the defeat but they concentrate on the possibility of winning. The third characteristic is what makes the athlete enjoy.

Depending on whether it is the process or the result, you will feel more or less pressure. If what really motivates you is the path that leads you to the goal, you will face a final with less pressure and you will be able to enjoy it more.

 

WHAT A DREAM 🤭🇫🇷💥

A post shared by Kylian Mbappé (@k.mbappe29) on

As we already know what pressure is, we must analyse how it influences our performance, since it does so through different processes. First of all, we have the activation that is the amount of energy we feel when competing.

If we spend too much energy or we fall short, our performance will be diminished. For instance, a defence that is over-activated can make a too strong entry and get an expulsion in an inconsequential move.

Another affected factor is the concentration since this capacity is limited. If we have our mind in the things that will happen depending on the result, we will be dedicating a part of the concentration to elements that do not help us achieve the optimal performance. Therefore, it will distance us from the result.

“If we want to change our interpretation

of the final, we will have to focus on changing

the thoughts that generate that pressure

If the possible negative consequences become more important than the positive aspects, we will be demotivated. This can lead to what is often said that players do not earn their salary and that they do not seem to want to win.

Thus, the pressure is all those interpretations (internal and external) that we do, or others do, about the meaning that a given situation will have. Interpretations that will be transformed into thoughts that will condition our behaviour.

Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to manage it. If we want to change our interpretation of the final, we will have to focus on changing the thoughts that generate that pressure. Another way would be to change the behaviour that pressure causes us.

In either case, the first thing we need to know is what is happening: what do I think and why do I think about it? Or, what do I do and why do I do it? Afterwards, we must find out when all this happens, for example, the week before, during the same day or minutes before the match.

“We will use relaxation techniques if

we are over activated, key words

to concentrate on the relevant aspects…”

Once we know how and when pressure influences us, we can use specific strategies to cope with it. For example, we will use relaxation techniques if we are over activated, key words to concentrate on the relevant aspects, put into practice precompetitive routines that allow us to ignore our thoughts, isolate ourselves from the media and social networks, seek support from the people that make us feel capable, review situations in which we have managed to cope with that same situation and repeat what helped us.

And, like any other aspect that affects competitive performance, the best way to be prepared before a final is to have progressively practiced the management of this type of situations previously. Let’s not forget that to reach a final you must have been able to succeed in a semi-final, so you only need to go one step further.