Under Pressure (updated)

With the clock ticking down to the start of the Maccabi Pan Am games, the reality is setting in – I’m going to be playing soccer in an international tournament, representing my country.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to make Team USA and compete on an international stage, and it’s why I’m starting to get nervous. You see, when I was living in Park City and dreaming of a spot on the U.S. Skeleton squad, it was those nerves that got in the way.

All season long, I was in the top 3-4 places, which would be enough to get me to National Team Trials, but as the final qualification race day arrived, I began to get in my head. I watched what the other racers were doing for their warmups and tried to copy them, despite never preparing that way before. One racer showed up late and I spent a lot of energy talking about getting him disqualified as opposed to thinking about what I needed to do.

By the time the green light flashed at the top of the track, I was so tense that I had the worst run of my season, and instead of looking at a future in Calgary and Lake Placid, I was back in the pack. When I realized I’d missed my shot, I was finally able to relax, and while it was too late, I had two of the fastest runs of the week.

As I get ready for Santiago, I’m confident that I’ve done all I can to get prepare. I played a lot this fall, I’ve trained hard, and I’m fully rested and healthy. Still, I really want to win a medal at the Games, and I wonder how to balance the pressure I’m putting on myself to succeed, with a need to relax and just enjoy the experience.

Thankfully, these intervening years, and the added maturity and life experiences they have brought (including an eye-opening clinic with Ski-to-Live that taught me some zen-like concepts) should provide the proper perspective, plus, unlike skeleton, I have a whole team working together towards the same goal, so I know I won’t be out there alone.

Whatever this tournament brings, I’m still proud to be part of Team USA and exited for the opportunity.

UPDATE: I’m lucky enough to be friends with a number of world class athletes, thanks to the time I spent in Utah. After I posted this, some of them were good enough to offer some words of wisdom.

You might as well accept failure as a possibility so you can focus on winning. That and realize that the learning phase is over. Now its time to let your body do what you’ve been training it to do. Your mind is only the mechanism to take orders (by what is going on) and the body executes (as it is trained to do)… Kind of like a smart phone 😉
— Bill Demong, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Nordic Combined

You already did the hard part in training. The final race or game is the fun and easy time. Just do what you know and don’t get in your own way.
— Tristan Gale Geisler, 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist, Skeleton

I just made sure to embrace the moment (and the pressure), be in the moment, relax and have fun. If I was able to do those things I knew the results would come. If I thought about the results and not the fore mentioned I usually wouldn’t perform well.
— Zach Lund, 2006 World Cup Champion, Skeleton

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