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Under pressure…

Pressure and how it impacts on performance is an impossible thing to accurately quantify or control although there is no lack of trying and well paid ‘professionals’ on hand to assist.

With Andy Murray, who I would argue is the greatest British sportsman of the last 50 years, our tennis appetite has been adequately provided for and yet we always hanker for more and why Emma Raducanu was such a welcome surprise. Emma is the new tennis sensation who has it seems everything on her side for global stardom. She is a young, tall and just happens to be beautiful which whether we like or not, is as much as part of her armoury as her tennis game. Consider the career of the Russian player, Anna Kournikova. Known for her beauty, she made as many millions and more as her playing competitors who regularly beat her on the court but not in the board rooms.

And so it can be for Emma with fever pitch media interest demurring over her with talk of her being a sponsors dream. All of which creates pressure on someone so young (18) not to mention that she is playing in only her 3rd professional tournament, her first Grand Slam and with a wild card which I imagine creates resentment (and pressure) from other more ‘deserving’ and older players. Oh, and it happens to be her home tournament and Wimbledon no less.

Then add in the pressure of actually winning through her matches, so expectations build and being hastily shifted on to show courts and live television. A slightly bigger examination than her school exams which she has only just completed. Her fourth round match is held back in the schedules by the BBC for an evening slot so they can maximise their viewing audience and of course, this ramps up the pressure also.

And pressure has consequences. In the final set and playing brilliantly she loses a chance to break her opponent’s serve and goes 3-0 down. What happens next is really no surprise. She appears to be overwhelmed by her circumstances. She begins to cry and is taken from the court and is unable to complete her match. And immediately all commentators began scrambling for possible explanations other than what is commonly known as a panic attack and I think  in such circumstances is perfectly understandable. I have had my own panics ahead of certain gigs when I have wanted to flee from venues. Even if it was something more medically accountable like respiratory issues I am surprised that when mental health is in the spotlight and owning our frailties is so encouraged, that people could not even countenance something like acute anxiety. As though it is something to be ashamed of, which it certainly isn’t.

And similarly in football this week with the infamous missing of penalties; something which continues to torment the England football team. There are few players who want to take a penalty and if Messi, Ronaldo and Maradona have all taken and missed, then there is no disgrace in doing the same. In my brief football career I was a player who vanished when penalty kick volunteers were called for which is why I am so admiring of any player who takes on the role and especially in a match with the hopes of an entire nation resting on it. Add in Live TV. The expectant crowd including two future Kings of England and David Beckham – a man who famously missed in similar circumstances.

The pressure on these three young men was unbearable and I am afraid it prevented them from doing what they had obviously been able to do in training. Why else would the manager have selected them for the job?

This weekend is the Open Championship. The oldest golf tournament and arguably the most prestigious and most difficult to win. A game which is the hardest of all and notoriously requires as much mental fortitude as ability. There are many sayings in golf, many of them are wise and speak volumes but perhaps the most powerful one pertains to the short putt.

It is interesting that the shortest shot in golf carries with it the most pressure. And the short putt can be the hardest shot of all as plenty of brilliant golfers who have seen championships fall from their grasp as a tiny putt slides by.

And the saying then that I have alluded to…

The most important six inches in golf are the six inches between the golfers ears.

So can withstanding pressure be something that is taught or acquired? Or is it just innate?

And shouldn’t being able to handle pressure be something which comes with age and experience? If so, then why was I so nervous ahead of a gig in front of only 60 people (socially distanced) this week? And why do professional golfers lose their competitiveness on the greens where the stroke does not require any physical prowess.

Colin Montgomerie, the famous golfer once said, that every golfer has a limited allocation of five feet putts.

I have much to be grateful for when it comes to handling pressure. Not mine, however. How is it that Tom is able to perform under circumstances that would have seen both his parents buckle?

An answer to this question might be a very lucrative one and if I had it, then I might be tempted to write the book that many parents would read.

His Marvel audition process is a good example particularly when he got to the stage of running lines and scenes with the actors who are his heroes and on full sized movie sets with hundreds of people watching.

The truth is, I don’t know how this has occurred. A fluke or a quirk of genes. Just darned good fortune and not something I can explain or really take credit for.

Emma Raducanu, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford… you have nothing to be ashamed of or apologise for. For all your obvious prowess – these were the kids at school who were different and so admired – but what you all proved is that you are normal and fallible just like the admiring throng who watch and hang on your ability. I fully expect you will all return and whatever achievements lie ahead for you all, they will be richly deserved.

Pressure is a burden of course but as we know, pressure also creates diamonds – and this isn’t a bad metaphor for the people who become sports stars who we all admire.

10 thoughts on “Under pressure…”

  1. VALERIE KERAUDREN

    Some people can surpass themselves in difficult circumstances, even extremely difficult, think of those who managed to survive in the death camps like my grandfather in Buchenwald, this kind of person is addicted to life. Nothing, but really nothing can stop them from saying to themselves that there will be a tomorrow and the day after, they are determined, whether it is your son or others in lesser circumstances, they know that there will be another day with ups and downs, but they hang on.

  2. I completely agree with you! There is so much pressure being put on people nowadays especially sports stars! I was so shocked by the reaction of fans after the Euros final and I was so disappointed by the abuse those lovely players were getting just because they missed a penalty! And i felt so sorry for Emma especially after the comments of a former Good Morning Britain presenter trying to make her feel bad! I hope your gig went well and loved the blog this week!

  3. Lovely blog Mr. H, I really enjoyed this one, all the way down to the old Diamonds are build with pressure quote and whenever that quote is brought up, I always think of another; “When in hot water, What hardens the egg, softens the potato” meaning that for some people they become stronger when others turn to mush. Not that there is anything wrong with mush but…lol. “When in hot water; What softens the potato, hardens the egg” is a quote that I try to “force” on everyone, lol.

  4. Hi Dom!

    We live under pressure from our mothers’ wombs, in my area, which is fashion, we are under constant pressure as well as models who have to have an ideal body size, I believe the same happens with actors, who live under pressure to portray a life shaped by its advertisers and agents to sell to the public, but the reality is different. Thank you for always bringing up subjects we can share our thoughts with.

    Have a nice Sunday

  5. We all react to pressure differently but nowadays the pressure seems to be all consuming as it it’s immediately available on TV and social media with so many armchair /keyboard warriors having their say. It is much more difficult now on those in the spotlight. One piece of advice I heard and have passed on to those much younger than me is “Turn nerves into excitement” advice given to Tom when he was Billy Elliot. I think that advice has been taken and used to it’s full extent by said Mr Holland and has served him well.

  6. Yo creo que se aprende a trabajar bajo presión, pues hay muchos trabajos que así se requiere, al igual que un deportista o actor, pero a final de cuentas es muy desgastante, mentalmente como físicamente.
    Saludos!!!

  7. I really enjoyed the blog this week (sports are so cool)!
    I had never heard of Raducanu before, but tennis has never been something I’ve kept up with so much. That’s still such a shame that she got a bit overwhelmed. It certainly shows how much she cares though, and hopefully, she can use this to come back stronger.
    The same goes for all of those football players. They’ll get stronger. It reminds me of how the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015. That previous year, 2014, they had fallen to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series; once Spring training came, every single player was hungry to fight to become champions. Then, that year, they led their division, fought their way to the World Series, and won!
    Sancho, Saka, Rashford, and the entire football team are going to be just as hungry next time around, and hopefully, get their victory too!
    Looking forward to next week’s blog!

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