How to adapt to a higher level of pressure

Photo by Humberto Santos on Unsplash

Corentin Tolisso is a French midfielder playing for the Bayern (Munich). He was very good during the month before the 2018 world cup and arrived in Russia being in the French starting team. But he didn’t play well on his first game against Australia (France Win 2-1) and, as a consequence lost his position in the starting team for the rest of the competition.

Why didn’t he managed to play the way he was on the month before the world cup? “It was my first game in the World Cup he said, I need to play more relaxed, as I did in the games during the preparation, I need to be more focused”.

This sentence says it all. The exact word he used is actually “libéré” which in French means freed. It means that he has to get out of the mental prison that pressure (from playing for the first time in the World Cup) is building around him, that he has to be free to fail, free to trust his skills, to feel confident, to feel that he belongs, so that he can then focus on what he knows and play at his best.

Any athlete will face new levels of challenge, new levels of pressure throughout his/her experience in sport. For some, any normal game is bringing some uncomfortable pressure, for others who are in their comfort zone at a certain level, going to the next level (middle to high school to college, from one league to a more competitive one, from amateur to pro, etc…) will bring a higher pressure due to a higher level of competition, to being like a newbie again, needing to prove oneself, to be accepted and all this will impact their confidence.

Here are some tips to adapt to a new level of pressure:

  • When getting to a new level of competition (new league etc…)
    • Accept the fact that you are in a new situation, that’s OK
    • Accept that there might be some time to adapt; focus on observing (yourself and others), learning and improving specific details rather than on needing to be perfect, worrying about what other people might think about you and on the stress that it might generate.
    • Trust your skills and that you will adapt


  • For the most important games/meets of a season:
    • Play/Race the same way as if you were in a usual, familiar, low pressure event. Be as relaxed and as freed, detached from the outcome, focused on the process and the task at hand.
    • Approach every Game/Race the same way, with the same mindset, with the same routine This will help you brain feel safe (vs emphasizing that there is something different which, for the brain, means danger). Michael Phelps once said in an interview: At the end of the day, a meet is a meet, I warm-up the same way, I warm down the same way, I have the same attitude, behind the bock, as I do in any other race. If approaching big meets as a not important one is too hard at the beginning, you may want to approach not important meets as if they were a big one.
    • Practice techniques like mental imagery, positive self-talk, deep breathing, etc.

Simple, but not so easy.

Take care,


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