Following up on Part I, this post offers insight into developing practice pressure, ways to balance out process and outcomes goals, and creating a more effective practice attitude/mindset. First, a simple quote to get us started:
1) "Pressure is a Privilege"
Few players ever get to know what it feels like to get tight or "choke", because they are rarely in a position to win! And this is the main point here: look at pressure as something you have EARNED the right to carry. Being in pressure moments is why you train so hard and make sacrifices. Set up your training environment to simulate aspects of competition, with pressure finding its way into your drills and situational point play. You don't compete in a bubble, so why practice in one?
2) Own the struggle
While it can be a challenge to create pressure in practice, you must learn to perform when something is on the line. No matter how small, find ways to make things competitive. I used to have players each put in $1 and we would play a tiebreaker tournament, winner takes all. It was amazing at how competitive it was, and more importantly, the pressure mounted as the players went through each round. One of my favorite pressure cookers included picking 2 players to play a deciding point/game at the end of each practice. Other players would choose who they thought would win, as well as join in the sprints for the losing team. Be creative and find opportunities to put yourself in a pressure environment.
3) Mini-Goals for Competition
Players play to win, that is no secret. But sometimes this simple goal can be counterproductive or is an easy way out (no accountability for effort, strategy, etc). Going into competition, I always have players write down 2-3 mini-goals, which are bite sized directions for how to achieve the outcome. In doing so, you get to see the athlete's thought process (a potential teaching moment), and the athlete has an opportunity to bridge the gap between practice goals and outcome goals.
4) Know your mental traps
This is one of the most overlooked areas of a player's mental performance; using practice situations to identify "triggers", or mental traps. I really don't mind when players get frustrated or upset during practice, but I do expect them to start figuring out what sets them off. In my own experience as an athlete, I knew the situations that would drive me crazy and make me lose focus or decrease my intensity. For example, I had issues with players who would take a lot of time in between points. I liked to play fast, so that worked against my natural tendencies. But what I learned was that I needed to do something with that extra time, which for me meant staying active by moving around and staying focused by spinning my racket in my hand (it was a cue for me to stay engaged on the court). Reflect on the things that get you riled up or cause you to lose your focus, and then create your game plan for how to counteract those moments. Use practice for your trial and error process; fail, fail better.