How You Can Learn Ways To Perform Better Under Pressure

16 March 2024

Mental Edge Newsletter

Helping You Gain A Mental Edge

How You Can Learn Ways To Perform Better Under Pressure

Being able to cope with pressure in sport is what separates good athletes from great athletes.  It’s the difference between a top 50 player and a top 5 player.  Or a youngster playing in an elite academy and someone who remains in grassroots sport. 

You’ll likely find that the top 5 player or elite academy athlete:

  • Deals better with criticism from coaches, teammates and parents.
  • Moves on quickly after making mistakes.
  • Seeks to impact games and express themselves.
  • Enjoy competitive challenges.
  • Demonstrates positive body language no matter what happens.
  • Communicates more clearly with team-mates and coaches.
  • Keeps a balanced perspective when they have a dip in form.
  • Doesn’t worrying about what other people think.
  • Enjoys and thrives in clutch situations.

How does a top athlete deal better with pressure?

One thing that they do that others don’t is that they are able to park results and outcomes.  They’re aware of what they want to achieve (TO WIN) however they are very adept at breaking down outcome goals and replacing them with small more manageable objectives (performance and process goals). 

For example, these are quotes taken from David Mackenzie’s website Golf State of Mind where he talks about Rory McIlroy’s goal setting process.

“I used to write down that I want to win five times, I want to win a major, I want to win The Race to Dubai, I want to win the FedEx Cup…but I can’t control it.  There’s so many other variables in there. I’d rather set goals that are objective and measurable, that I’m in control of.” – Rory McIlroy 

Rory said this week about starting a new golf season, “I can control if my stats are better than last year. I want my proximity to the hole inside 150 yards to be a certain number, I want my strokes gained putting to be a certain number. I want to hit over 60% of fairways.”

The second statement links closely with performance goals which are quantifiable using statistics to back up progress.

Focusing on the process

If you are familiar with sports psychology you’ll have heard the work PROCESS mentioned and possibly process goals.  Process goals are connected to the key ingredients that underpin your best performances and can help you learn skills so that you do perform better under pressure. 

Examples include:

1. The batter in cricket

I’ve worked with a number of international cricketers over the years and this highlights an example of how we improved his composure under pressure.

Step 1: He wrote down his current batting routine on paper.

Step 2: We revisited his batting routine highlighting 2 critical factors that he needed to own.  a) His state – ensuring he was mentally ready for the delivery.  b) His use of his eyes, and his focus tracking the ball from the moment the bowler was ready to take his run up.

Step 3: After matches we went through a video of his innings scrutinising his batting routine forming the following chart where we rated on a scale of 1-5 how mentally ready and focused he was.  Below is an example of a chart showcasing one over, however we did do this for the 22 balls that he faced.

Step 4: The batter was able to identify where he got distracted and deviated from his batting routine for the next time.  We continued this process for his next 5 matches as we set about developing a rock solid routine.

2. The golfer

Step 1: We identified that the golfer needed to improve his performance levels and to do so improving his putting was critical.  Technically he was fine however mentally he was very inconsistent.

Step 2: We agreed that what he needed to do was trust his training and his skills when he was on the green therefore if he found himself with time on his hands rather than focusing so much on the outcome of his putt, the difficulty level or reading his putts on the green he would look to switch off and perform what I call some mini stretch exercises or grounding exercises to help him remain present.

Step 3: On the next tee box, he then marked Y, N or N/A as to whether he had done so. Y represents YES I did do my mini stretches, N represents NO he didn’t follow through with the mini stretches and N/A means that they weren’t applicable, he didn’t have an opportunity.  He also noted the context down too as you’ll see below in this chart.

Step 4: The golfer assessed where he moved away from doing mini stretches and remaining present.  He was then able to recognise trust issues over specific putts (short birdie putts) after doing this for every competitive round for 2 months.

To sum up, by taking this approach and focusing more so on process you will be able to keep more focused on what you need to do, not what your opponents or rivals are doing and will help yourself get closer to your longer-term outcome and performance goals.


In episode #224 of Demystifying Mental Toughness, I share part of a conversation with Aaron Walsh a Mental Performance Coach with many Elite Professional Rugby Players.   We discuss whether elite professional rugby union players view mental toughness as something that they can develop, our role as Sports Psychology practitioners in measuring performance as well as coaches influence in the development of psychological characteristics and skills.

Self concept


We’ve recently started a regular newsletter with tips and tricks for those interested in the psychology of football or soccer. Feel free to sign up today. 


David Charlton Sports Psychologist

Best Wishes 

David Charlton

Online Sports Psychologist | Mental Performance Coach who supports many highly motivated athletes, young and old, developing their skills or who are already highly skilled so that they gain a mental edge and get the most from their talent across the globe from USA/Canada to Great Britain and Ireland to UAE, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.    

Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence

Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast

Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub 

Author of The Mental Edge

With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to transfer their skills from training to competitive situations, under pressure.

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

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