What is the hallmark of a champion? Big players perform their best in big matches and at the most important competitions. Think the likes of Tom Brady at Super Bowl 2017 and Laura Kenny at London 2012 and Rio 2016. But what do these type of athletes do that allow them to raise their game when the situation requires it? Can students employ the same techniques in their exams?
Researchers have been investigating why some people flourish and why some wilt under pressure. The answer seems to be around if you can get yourself into a ‘challenge state’ (characterised by feeling supported, believing you have the abilities to meet the task and remembering previous successful performance). The opposite is a ‘threat state’ which is when athletes don’t feel in control, feel isolated and dwell on uncertainty.
A new study has just been released that adds to our understanding. It is on 'psychological state that underlie clutch performances’. ‘Clutch’ performances is the term used to describe “superior performances that occur under pressure circumstances”. It is delivering your best when it matters the most. We had the pleasure of speaking to one of the researchers, Christian Swann about his paper. He detailed the 10 characteristics of performing brilliantly under pressure:
- Intense effort- 100% commitment and work rate
- Heightened Awareness - to both your surroundings and your own mental state
- Being Up For It - being pumped up for the moment
- Absence of Negative Thoughts - focusing on what you want, not what you don’t want
- Fully Absorbed - immersing yourself in the performance
- Confidence - believing you will achieve
- Control - focusing on what you can control (your thoughts, feelings and reactions)
- Increased Motivation - being determined to succeed
- Enjoyment - fully embracing the challenge
This research compliments existing literature on the psychology of Olympic Champions, with work-rate, confidence, positivity and the ability to block out distractions featuring in both. What is encouraging is that these are skills that can be learnt and developed. They are not set in stone. If athletes and students can master these skills, they give themselves the best chances of success when it matters the most.