Pressure all around us, this sporting weekend

by Andy on September 25, 2015

As we prepare for yet another huge sporting weekend, it will be interesting to see how the different teams, competitors and managers cope with the pressure they will all be under.

Looking forward to the sport this weekend? There’s the much-heralded England vs Wales Rugby Union clash at Twickenham, and other Rugby World Cup matches. There’s a full program of Premier League action, the Japanese Grand Prix, golf in Europe and the US and and and……

I don’t want to spoil the action for you, after all, it’s just sport, so it’s meant to be fun. But take your spectator’s hat off for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of those involved, and think about the different pressures they’re under. Their success or otherwise this weekend is of course in part predetermined by their preparation and readiness for the challenge. It’s likely that Ireland and Argentina are going to be more successful in the rugby than say, Newcastle and Sunderland will be in the football, because they go into the matches in better shape. But sport, like business is partly to do with preparation, but it’s also about ‘execution’. And how they cope with the pressure will determine how they execute on the day.

Pressure comes in different forms and is driven by different circumstances. The NZ All Blacks came into the Rugby World Cup as favourites, with the pressure of expectation, the hopes of a nation on their shoulders. Ditto the Springboks, and we saw last week against Japan that maybe they didn’t execute effectively under pressure. You could say it’s the pressure that comes with high performance. Jose Mourinho is subject to it too, as he looks to restore Chelsea’s fortunes after a poor start to the season.

The more significant the encounter, the more the protagonists will be subject to scrutiny. Stuart Lancaster’s decision to include Sam Burgess (the Rugby League superstar, still largely unproven in Union) will come under intense scrutiny. Is he ready to face the formidable experience of Wales’s Jamie Roberts in the centre? Some of that pressure will undoubtedly spill over to Burgess himself.

And for all those involved, the consequences or importance of their decisions will also lead to intense pressure. The consequences for Steve McLaren and Dick Advocaat, managers at under-performing Newcastle and Sunderland respectively, or Brendan Rodgers, struggling to ignite Liverpool could be losing their jobs. For the  middle-ranking golfer, playing the second round of the tournament today, hoping to make the cut, the pressure will be the difference between being there for the weekend (and getting paid) or returning home having missed the cut, and with nothing to show for their expensive trip to Germany.

The pressure is all around, it’s just that we sometimes don’t notice it with the elite performers – Roger Federer staying calm on the must-win points, The Formula 1 teams changing tyres or replacing components under the most intense scrutiny, or the All Blacks continually pressing for the winning try, maintaining possession, doing the simple things until they reach their outcome. My colleagues at Gazing Performance Systems are proud to have played their part in helping with this. How do these elite performers achieve this? Above all, they choose to stay on-task, and execute the plan even when diversions are all around them. Years of preparation and execution coming together when it matters.

For Newcastle and Sunderland, I fear their days are numbered. Steve McLaren talked about demanding a ‘fighter’s not a victim’s mindset’, and that may help them on the day against Chelsea, but I doubt it will be enough longer-term. But it will be interesting to see how the England team cope with all the pressure at Twickenham. Will they let the occasion get to them, or will they stay on task, stick to the plan and let the outcome look after itself?

Enjoy the weekend. And when it’s all over, maybe have a look at how your teams at work perform when the pressures on.

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