Every now and then I come across an athlete or a coach that talks about someone who could do great things at practice but could never execute the same performance on the big stage. I imagine this athlete exists in all sports and at all levels of competition. In my most recent conversation about one of these “practice MVPs,” we realized fear was a big contributor. We decided that sometimes athletes get too nervous and even fearful of not doing their best, perhaps because they feel like they are going to let down their coach, parents, teammates or, worse yet, themselves. This is simply mental sabotage and creates a toxic relationship between the athlete and their sport.
I believe overcoming this fear comes down to your preparation. Every time you step on the field, in the weight room or into any other training environment you have to have a plan and a purpose behind the plan. If you execute your plan every day at training and truly trust the process, there should be no lingering question of “Did I do enough?”. If you can combine this with a competitive training atmosphere, you should be able to do your best when it’s time to shine. One thing you have to realize is that sometimes all your preparation still won't be enough to get the gold medal or win the championship game. When this happens, you get a beautiful opportunity to decide whether to give up, or keep going and learn from the experience.
In the past when working with Olympic sprinter Mike Rodgers, I kept heavy weightlifting in the program too long when his practices required more speed. He would have a practice or two where he didn’t hit the times he wanted, Mike never panicked, just told me he felt strong enough but didn’t have the speed or bounce he was looking for. This made it easy for me to look back at what we had been doing and shift gears from heavy and slow to light and springy. Mike could have given up on himself or his coaches (including me), but he decided to not let fear sink in and instead to adjust and keep going. If you can truly trust your coaches and training, look yourself in the mirror and say "I gave it my best effort," fear will never get in the way of your success.
“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.”