Pursley Pep Talks: Performing Under Pressure

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the 12th installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.

Pressure—we have all experienced it. Do we welcome it, or do we dread it? The answer to that question will likely have a lot to do with our performance results. Pressure will almost always impact performance. The way in which we respond to it will determine whether it is a positive or a negative impact.

Pressure can come from outside sources or from within ourselves. We must learn to control it, or it will control us. If we manage it properly, pressure can be used to stimulate our adrenaline and lift our performances to a higher level. It can enhance our incentive, motivation and determination. If we allow pressure to control us, however, it will deplete our energy and destroy our confidence.

The difference between athletes who respond well to pressure and those who don’t is often a matter of perspective. Those who thrive on pressure will look at every challenge as an opportunity and will tap into the energy that is prevalent in a high-pressure environment. They will relish the spotlight and embrace the moment.

Those who are unable to handle the pressure will often associate their performance with their self-worth. They believe that their quality of life may be diminished, or that they are somehow less significant or of less value as a person if they fail to achieve their performance goals. Although this mindset has no basis in reality, it can create an intimidating level of pressure that is likely to crush rather than enhance performance.

A balanced perspective that recognizes the significance of the opportunity combined with an “everything-to-gain-and-nothing-to-lose” attitude is the perspective that will enable an athlete to use the pressure to his or her advantage. Learning to handle pressure effectively will be as important as any other aspect of our preparation in our quest for success in major competition.

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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