Performing Under Pressure: Building an Olympian Mindset

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What is the difference between “good” and “great”? You might think one clearly has more passion, a better attitude or a higher level of commitment than the other. Or, you might think one just performs or achieves better than the other. However, these are all measurements between the two not the difference. Does someone who did a “good” job not have passion, a positive attitude or commitment?

The difference is the ability to perform consistently under pressure according to Gavin Freeman Psychologist and Director of the Business Olympian Group, “People with the same skill set will perform very differently when put under pressure,” he says. But “why?” is the question Gavin has been asking for over 10 years working with Australian Olympic teams and corporate executive teams.

The model to this answer is simple but the implementation can be difficult. To explain Gavin refers to four key principal’s: resilience, sustained appropriate focus, discipline and the fuel to achieve.


Firstly, “pressure” is different for everybody so begin by identifying what causes you, as an individual, pressure. This could be the thought of getting lost in the open water, unclipping on the bike or running in heat. Once you have identified what causes you pressure it is important to find scenarios where you can practice it rather than avoid it. Simulate the scenario and practice the action in a safe environment says Gavin, “The idea is to re-frame our thoughts based on our own experiences.” Find instances that take you out of your comfort zone until these situations feel “normal”.

Sustained Appropriate Focus

Some parts of training may seem tedious and almost pointless but trust your coach - there is method to the madness. Your coach meticulously plans your path to success through continual learning with small challenges along the way. If however you feel like you’re in a slump or that something isn’t right, speak to your coach to get a better understanding of your training plan. “People that can perform under pressure are ones that know where they are going, they know what that pathway is and it’s more than just the single time frame, it’s multiple timeframes,” says Gavin. You can also look for other means to expand your knowledge and test your skills; this could be one-on-one sessions, additional reading or even helping out another tribe member.


What is discipline? “Really, it’s doing what we said we were going to do,” says Gavin. While that might sound simple how many of us have said we would be at training in the morning and slept in? A true test of your discipline is to see if you can be accountable and stay true to your plan when the going gets tough or when things out of your control, like the weather, change. To build discipline you must take responsibility for your training - that means owning up to your slack moments but ultimately working through them. If race day (or OWS day) brings chop, swim through it with the same tenacity you would if the conditions were perfect.

Fuel to achieve

The fuel to achieve; call it motivation or the inner “why”, is the thing pushing you to attack the challenge you set yourself. The fuel to achieve comes with its own set of challenges. Often identifying the goal or the challenge is easy, creating the plan is easy, and embarking on the execution is easy. However reaching the end goal is not, especially when training over winter or for a long distance tri. Why?

Gavin describes the process we often follow as aim (plan and train), adjust (tweak the plan) and fire (race). However what tends to occur is that we aim, adjust and keep adjusting due to external factors which could be anything from fear, work taking over, the challenge being harder than we thought etc. The fear of “failing” sets in, and we give up. Instead Gavin suggests taking an aim (planning and training for a race), firing (testing yourself out on a “B” race), and then adjusting in order to ensure you hit your “A” race goal. By doing this you will receive relevant and timely feedback to track how you are going and find the places where you need to work a little harder. At the same time you will feel a sense of achievement and a boost of motivation as you tick off small goals along the way.

Ultimately, any challenge you set yourself is going to be a little scary, you will feel a little overwhelmed and there may be times you think it’s all too hard. This is normal, we have all been through it - and continue to go through it. Instead follow the principles Gavin outlines by identifying your fears/pressure, unpicking them to smaller bite sized pieces, practising them so they feel comfortable and then testing yourself to see where you’re at.

As a TriChick you are part of a community where “failing” is all part of the learning process - and trust us there isn’t really such a thing as “fail”. We’ve all stacked, bunked, cried, laughed etc but more importantly we’ve all grown stronger and become better athletes by doing so!

Want more? Check out Gavin’s other work here:


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