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Elite Sports – How To Remain Mentally Strong And Consistently Confident Under Pressure?

Written by: Denise Holland, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about more mental techniques! When the stakes are high, win you go up or lose you go down; whatever the consequence in your sport for underachieving and barely making your presence known, it’s normal to experience nerves, even stress and anxiety.

photo of a man playing football at the stadium

You’ve noticed that often, as soon as the competition starts, your head clears, and you’re right there in the optimal performance zone, on automatic, with 100% access to your skill capability. Then, suddenly it all changes, and your confidence plummets, taking your results with it! You can’t quite put your finger on what’s changed, but something has you spiralling under pressure, lacking confidence, and unable to find your form.

“The quality of your thinking is determined by your understanding of who and what is performing.” – Denise Holland.

As a seasoned athlete, you use mental techniques to change, manage or manipulate your thinking and quieten your mind. Still, to your surprise, even these well-rehearsed coping strategies do not work, leaving you tight in the body and awkward in your movements and skills. Your perceptual field narrows, diminishing your usual precision, accuracy, and timing.

In this article, I invite you to reflect on three powerful game-changing insights; please note that I didn’t say three tools to apply for outstanding results. Transformation happens when you get a profound realisation for yourself, restoring your innate confidence, which allows you to playfreely™, irrespective of the circumstance.

1. Perform From a Place of Knowing You Are Already Enough.

During our early years, we learn that winning races or getting excellent marks on a test has the teachers and parents hopping about joyfully. Soon, we enter a cycle of striving to improve and be better than others; it gets us noticed and gives us a chance to be the popular kid. By the time we hit adolescence and adulthood, patterns of thinking, supported by our memory, are shaping our psychology, i.e., I’ll be better when, I get this grade, that place at university, meet this person, get that job, car, house, etc. You get the picture, living as if feelings of satisfaction, joy, and peace need to be earned and come from outside. The pressure to get results is suffocating and blocks access to our innate confidence. The road of yearning begins, and we inadvertently show up to life from a place of lack and insecurity, needing approval and recognition to feel OK.

What if all that is just an innocent misunderstanding, part of our unfortunate cultural conditioning, habits learned that do not serve us? Imagine a world where humans first knew how amazing they are as a part of nature, designed perfectly for life, resilient, creative and whole. The universal intelligence that allows our eyes to blink, lungs to breathe and minds to think is recognised as a perfect piece of human engineering; nothing lacking or needs fixing. How, then, might we approach life and particularly performance in sport? In my work, as sportspeople wake up to their spiritual nature, they transcend habitual limiting thinking and become curious and open, exploring what’s possible through the body and mind. They let go of expectations and thrive, knowing they are already enough as human life – It’s a total game-changer!

2. Human Beings Are Thinking Creatures.

For four and a half years, I travelled by plane weekly from London Gatwick to Glasgow as the Scotland National Coach for my sport, netball, leading the Scottish Thistles to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Glasgow 2014. Eighteen months out, I found myself no longer in the role, causing me stress and being unable to fulfil my goals. Unknown to me, this change in my path would lead me to my defining moment of spiritual awakening, “Am I making it all up?”

After laughing and crying all weekend, I noticed new thoughts and feelings of possibility and hope arise within me; I no longer needed to take time to get over the upset of an unexpected career change but could embrace the situation immediately as an opportunity for growth and development. In one moment of realisation, I saw the fact of Thought, that we all live in a world of Thought. Our realities are projected from in to out using the power of Thought.

Previous compelling mental activity fell off my mind naturally as a by-product of insight rather than an effect of working on myself or being mentally tough by applying tools and techniques, affirmations, reframing or positive self-talk as found in cognitive practices, e.g., NLP and CBT. My natural health, resilience, and well-being were revealed; it became visible as I no longer took my changeful thinking so seriously. There is such power in knowing that thought creates feeling and nothing else does and that it's OK to feel; it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

When you win a competition or match, how long does the euphoria last, ten minutes, an hour, a day, a week? It’s entirely arbitrary. On some level, you know that your experience changes as your thoughts change. Equally, when you lose a match, each player's experience is different; disappointment, embarrassment, or content that you were not beaten by more! Human beings feel our thoughts about the loss, not the loss; it’s an inside job. If the result caused us to feel, we would all feel the same, and it wouldn’t change over time. Realising this, creating a psychology in which you remain the victim makes no sense. It sabotages your clarity of mind and resilience to bounce back in adversity.

3. Freewill v Willpower – The Spiritual Bridge to Greatness

As a national coach, I helped athletes to stay present; control the controllable, remain process focussed, and let the outcome take care of itself. This approach of managing the mind worked short-term, and success was determined only by a player’s willpower to overcome being drawn to the future. We avoided, as best we could, filling our minds with possible consequences. This form of working on our psychology, rather than understanding it, was our best strategy until now!

The ultimate jewel of athletic performance points sportspeople towards insights into the divine nature of all existence. Let’s consider letting go, being unattached to the outcome, and crossing the spiritual bridge from willpower to freewill, from the personal to the impersonal.

It may sound contradictory, as surely athletes must follow their desires and want to achieve greatness; isn’t this, after all, at the root of inspiration? Well, yes and no! For sure, follow your calling, fulfil your dreams, go all out, and be all in 100%, but know that the outcome says nothing about you as a human being. So often, our identity is wrapped up with our performances and what people think of us; our ego-mind becomes an unstable platform to build our performance castle.

Artists paint not to sell paintings but to express their soul’s desire instinctively and lovingly; they cover the canvas until suddenly, it’s done, finished, they know! What if sportspeople performed from the same place within, bursting with creativity, love and fun? How much more could be experienced and achieved without the ideas of who and what you are or what you need getting in the way? This is where the magic happens; remember teams who surprised everyone with their trajectory to fame, complete unknowns, and smashing the records. Why? Because they went beyond personal limiting beliefs to the pure universal creative potential that binds us all as a species.

If this article resonates, and you’d like to learn more, please visit my website, scroll down and sign up for my monthly newsletter, “Spirit of the Game,” to ensure you don’t miss out on upcoming transformative coaching programmes and articles, or drop me an e-mail here.

Happy exploring!

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Denise Holland, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Denise Holland is a leader in the spiritual nature of human psychology behind sports performance – the most undiscovered competitive advantage! She has competed at two World Championships and two Asian Championships in netball. Over fifty internationals and more than a hundred England Super-league matches have benefited from her services as a performance and national coach. Denise understands what it is to underachieve at a major competition and fail to maximise return on investment. She now dedicates her life to helping sportspeople playfreely™, highly aware, focused, and functioning optimally with 100% access to their skill capacity when it counts! Denise’s grounding in the spiritual nature of existence and human consciousness makes her highly specialised in leveraging state of mind. She works with sportspeople of all ages and levels local league to professional and national honours.



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