Performing under Pressure – when it matters most

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This week’s blog is from Danny Crates, a gold medal winning Paralympian. Danny has an impressive track record– he won Bronze in the 400m at the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000, went one better to take Gold in the 800m in Athens, and ended his athletic career on a high note as GB flag bearer at the Beijing Games.

He’s now a successful motivational speaker and media commentator. He’s also appeared on Celebrity Masterchef! So he’s uniquely placed to share his thoughts on what it takes to reach the pinnacle in your career, and deliver a great performance when it matters most.

One shot, one opportunity

Performing under Pressure can have so many meanings. Whether it’s going for an interview for a job you really want or need, pitching for a new piece of work that could launch your career or make your business a success, or make a good impression on someone you really like on a first date… It doesn’t matter what the situation, it all comes down to one thing – nailing it when it matters. We get one chance, one opportunity (according to Eminem at least).

This is particularly the case for an Olympian or Paralympian. We are defined by one thing, our performance at an Olympic or Paralympic Games. This only comes around once every four years, and even if you are gifted enough to compete at more than one Games, the reality is that you may only be at the top of your game in just one. My 12 year athletics career is defined by 1 minute 57 seconds on 25th September 2004. That’s how long it took me to win the gold in the men’s 800m in Athens 2004. 12 years defined by 1 minute 57 seconds.

It’s easy – ain’t it?!

So how does an athlete stand on the start line in front of a stadium full of people and millions watching and get it all right when the gun goes. Simple. It’s about “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation” There is no magic formula or modern science involved.

You see, when I stood on that start line in 2004 I had to know that I had left no stone unturned. I had to know that I had given everything in every element of my training and preparation. I knew nothing had been half-hearted. That knowledge allowed me to stand on the start line with confidence – not that I WOULD win – because nothing is ever guaranteed, and that was out of my control anyway – but that I COULD win. And I knew that if I was beaten that day it would be by a better athlete, and that’d mean I could shake their hand knowing I had done everything I could.

Practicing for that one opportunity

So that meant I had to make sure my body and mind was in the best physical and mental shape, 100% ready for that moment. As well as high quality, focused training where I left everything out on the track, I practiced what I wanted to do – technically, tactically, mentally, physically – in other races – taking it on from the gun, sitting at the back and even boxed in the middle. I knew that whatever situation I found myself in that final, I had a strategy to get out and be successful. It allowed me to stand on the start line with superb confidence that I not only knew what I had to do, but knowing I could actually do it.

Can look at yourself in the mirror?

There is no greater feeling than being successful, knowing that all that hard work paid off, and you’ve nailed it when it’s mattered most. Be warned though, there is no worse feeling than knowing you’ve not nailed it when you could have. Knowing that if you had just given that little bit extra in your preparation, maybe, just maybe the outcome could have been different.

There are no guarantees in sport, life and business, only the fact that if we put in the hard work, the results will often follow.

So next time you’ve got to deliver under pressure, think well in advance about what you’ll need to do to nail it. Think about looking yourself in the mirror after it, and know that you’ve done everything you could have done to deliver the performance you needed. And go do what you need to do.