Sunday, 4 August 2013

Under Pressure

So what is it like to stand on the start line as one of the last three handlers to run in an international event where you know one slightly mis-timed command, hand signal or foot step could be the difference between success or failure.

Many of us have been there and we all have our different ways in dealing with pressure. For me the trick is finding out how person deals with this situation and then help then in that way. Sounds obvious I know, however we don't all recognise the signs of when to shut up and say nothing and when a motivational conversation in the queue really helps. 

It was interesting to watch handlers 'back stage' at last Sunday's finals getting ready for their runs.

Some of the techniques I saw included: 
  • That last drag on a cigarette
  • Sitting quietly with their dog in a trance like state
  • Pacing
  • Jumping on the spot
  • Incessant talking
  • Not watching the course
  • Watching the course
  • and the list goes on...
What do all these have in common?...... They all have a method. Generally this is a well practiced routine that starts at a pre-determined point before the run.

One of the hardest parts of the job for me was to say nothing. Obviously I wished the handlers all well, mostly though I wanted them to go out with what ever mental picture and preparedness they had in their mind.

For Natasha Wise and Sian Illingworth's runs last Sunday, we knew there was going to be an even greater amount of pressure due to their incredible qualifying runs and they were in the last three of the class to run. We helped them prepare back-stage however one thing I had forgotten was how the crowd suddenly goes silent when you walk on to the start line. It is eerie to suddenly have the volume control of 100's of people muted while you walk set your dog up. This is pressure.

To get in the zone in your preparation, to stay in it as you walk out, to maintain it as you run the course takes practice. For some people it comes naturally, for most they work hard at this bit.

I read somewhere that when performance really matters i.e. on the start line at an important event, 80% of it comes down to mental strength, I agree. What I saw last Sunday was 100% of the handlers effort in their warm up routines going in to achieving this 80% when on the course.

I also saw a lot of ill-looking Team Managers - myself included!


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