Managing Pressure Like A Pro

Techniques for Thriving Under Stress

“Everyone has a gap between what they are capable of and what they deliver under pressure. The best manage that gap.”

If you want to improve your performance in any area of your life, then the way that you look at and manage stress is going to impact this. Stress is an inevitable part of life, we all need to find ways to manage our stress levels daily, with our work, within relationships, with our finances, on our commute to work! The list goes on…

For athletes, managing pressure in sport and being able to thrive under stress is often the key to differentiating the good from the great!

Stress affects us all in different ways. Physiologically, it can cause changes in the body, like sweaty palms an increased heart rate, an altered breathing pattern, or at an extreme level uncontrollable shaking, all of which will obviously impact physical performance.

It can also affect us mentally causing us to lose our focus, suffer from mental blocks, making it harder to make decisions and resulting in silly mistakes.

As a performance coach, I’ve seen the most talented sportsmen and women performing way below their capabilities because of the physical and mental changes they struggle to deal with when the pressure is on.

But a message that I constantly tell them is that: Pressure isn’t bad!

Pressure has a hugely beneficial side: When you embrace pressure and use it to your advantage it can often push us to perform better and can enable us to become hyper-focused and be fully immersed in the moment.

As a high performer, you need to recognise that your goal is never to avoid pressure; instead, you need to embrace it if you wish to take your performance to the next level. I’m a big believer that:

“Everyone has a gap between what they are capable of and what they deliver under pressure. The best manage that gap.”

You often hear stories of players that are amazing on the training ground but seem to go missing on the big occasions. The young athletes that thrive on their way to the top, but fall apart when they finally reach the big time and this is no surprise.

Performing in front of 60 people is a completely different experience to performing in front of 60,000 people. The elite performers know how to manage the gap between what they are capable of delivering on their own and how they can replicate it under extreme pressure.

The best of the best will thrive in this situation reaching new levels when the pressure is turned up.

But this ability isn’t just reserved for Olympic Gold Medalists and World Cup Winners, we can all learn to thrive under stress by reframing our relationship with it. When we lean into stressful situations and see the opportunities that lay on the other side we start to use it to our advantage.

If you can understand that pressure is ultimately a privilege then you can learn to thrive under stress.

So, how can we do this?

When I work with sports athletes and “business athletes”, I will often take them through some or all of the following techniques:


Athletes feel stress for many reasons: some of the most common being because of expectations placed on themselves, a fear of failure, pressure from coaches and teammates, or the expectation to improve or maintain previous successes.

The important thing to recognise is that stress is SPECIFIC to each person.

As a performance coach, I’ve seen how powerful it is for athletes to recognise their unique stress triggers. Once you are able to pinpoint the exact reasons behind the pressure you’re feeling, you can start addressing them directly and close the performance gap.

Takeaway: Take time to reflect and understand precisely why you feel pressure for this event. MORE DETAIL – Identifying the source of stress helps you address it effectively. You don’t need to find answers at this stage, but recognising WHERE the triggers are coming from is the first step to managing them.


Kobi Bryant famously said “If you want to be a better player, you have to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more”. I’m a big believer that the more prepared you are for a situation, the less stress you will feel. This is because the act of preparing thoroughly builds confidence and it reduces the impact of stress when the moment arrives.

Proper preparation means that you are fully aware of the challenges ahead of you and that you can cover every potential outcome. When I work with athletes and high performers, I will always emphasise the power of thorough preparation.

We often simulate high-pressure scenarios so that they can practice staying calm and performing under stress. Whilst you can’t plan for every possible outcome and replicate the exact scenarios, being clear on how you will deal with the most likely curve balls will stand you in great stead. This kind of preparation is invaluable for not letting stress get the better of you when it matters most.

Takeaway: Review your current way of operating. Do you prepare thoroughly before you step into stressful situations, or are you just hoping to get by?Creating a clear plan around what you will do in certain situations will do wonders for your confidence, which will significantly reduce your stress levels.  


Whilst excellent preparation is vital, we all know that even if you feel you have everything covered, things don’t always go to plan. This is especially true in high-stress situations, which can become unpredictable. So, while entering the situation as prepared as possible, don’t aim to control it completely.

In fact, one of the biggest mistakes I see people making when operating under pressure is aiming for control. Instead, aim for adaptability. The ability to adjust your approach when things don’t go as expected can turn setbacks into opportunities.

Takeaway: Stop trying to control the situation as a way of dealing with the pressure. Instead, do the opposite, remain calm, be adaptable, go with the flow, and embrace the unpredictable.


If stress has the potential to affect our physiological response, being able to over-ride this is a game changer. As we’ve already discussed, we cannot (and shouldn’t try to) have complete control of high-pressure situations, this is something that is always accessible to us, combats any type of stress and brings us back to the moment.

An immediate stress response is that your breath will become shorter and more rapid. By returning your breath to a slower and gentler pace, you can reduce stress and improve your performance. Trust me, I’ve taught many athletes the importance of proper breathing and seen their performance skyrocket.

Takeaway: Deep, mindful breathing is a powerful tool for calming the mind and body, especially in the heat of competition. Get in the habit of starting your day with a few minutes of breathwork, inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly to help you relax.


Athletes are often so focused on the result, winning the game or competition, that they lose their focus and succumb to pressure in the moment.

Stress is often a result of spending too much time going over events of the past or being fearful of the future. Which is why I always remind my clients to stay present. What is happening at this VERY MOMENT?

We can’t control what has already happened and we can’t worry ourselves with what may happen in the future, by concentrating on the here and now, we are able to perform more effectively and reduce the anxiety that comes from obsessing over the outcome.

Takeaway: Keep focused on the present. Breathing is a great way to do this, but you can also focus on your surroundings, paying attention to sensations, sounds, and smells. I find a great way to do this is by being comfortable with being on your own without your phone, computer, background noise or distractions. Just you and your thoughts.

The thought of this scares the life out of many people, but if you can be comfortable in this space it will drastically improve your confidence calmness and ability to manage pressure.


Whilst I’m a big believer that you can truly thrive under pressure by leaning into it. Pressure can sometimes rear its ugly head in the most unlikely circumstances and make you question your abilities.

Spiraling into negative thoughts happens to the best of us, but words are amazing at building confidence and resilience. I advise my clients to question how they talk to themselves, redirect negative thoughts, and develop a habit of positive self-talk.

When you feel yourself spiraling, I recommend you do the same. Positive self-talk can shift your mindset from one of doubt to one of confidence and readiness.

Takeaway: Listen to your thoughts and redirect them into positives. Remember your training and hard work, you are supposed to be here, capable, and ready!


The worst-case scenario, even if you manage to control your stress is that you lose the event or contract or fall to pieces in a presentation. While this outcome isn’t ideal, failure is crucial for building mental strength and resilience that can ultimately improve performance in the long run.

I’m a big believer in the concept of you either win or you learn and I’ve seen firsthand how setbacks can be transformed into stepping stones for future success. Embracing failure as a learning opportunity is a vital part of developing mental toughness.

Takeaway: Reminding yourself that either outcome is OK can lift some of the pressure. This allows you to perform more freely, ultimately making the favorable outcome more likely.

Learning to thrive under pressure is about embracing stress and using it to sharpen your focus and enhance your performance. Remember, it’s all in your head!

By understanding your stressors, preparing well, staying flexible, controlling your breathing, focusing on the present, practicing positive self-talk, and reframing failure, you can close the gap between your capabilities and your performance.

Manage the gap. Use pressure to your advantage, and you’ll be unstoppable.


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