This may sound funny unless you have been in this situation, but staring your dreams in the face can be very difficult to handle. For example, it is so rare that someone who is in the Championship round of big event for the first time ever handles themselves well enough to win. It seems like you want this so badly that you would do anything necessary to win since you are so close. But in some cases that is exactly the problem.
Getting out of your own way is not an easy thing to do.
If you have worked for years to reach the pinnacle of your chosen field and suddenly you have one more performance to execute so that you can achieve what you set out to do so long ago, that is a lot to deal with. The phrase “Getting out of your own way” has never applied so well. If you are facing someone who has been there before, the odds are stacked against you. If you are lucky and both of you are new to this scenario, now things are back to even and you just need to execute a little bit better than they do.
I remember choking away a win in the finals of the AZ State Racquetball Championships many years ago. I had boycotted the event due to some personal conflicts with the people running the organization at the time, much to my dismay years later. What I should have doe was enter, win, and make use of the time on the podium to expose some of self-serving things the board of directors was doing. Anyway, the one year I did decide to enter the event, I made the finals after having to face the other likely finalist in the semis. A nice little “screw you” move by the board for my previous transgressions, But I won, and then had what was a better match up for me in the finals. He was nervous, and I started out strong enough to get out to an early lead. Then things took a turn for the worse.
I started to realize that my name was going to get carved into that huge trophy like so many others before me. I wanted it too badly, and I started to lose focus on the present and look to the future. Visions of me standing on the podium crept it, and my attention wandered from what was putting me in the lead in the first place. I blew an easy shot that would have given me a 10-6 lead in the second game after winning the first. I would have been five points away from winning it, but I lost that rally and I panicked. I was in the lead, but suddenly I felt out of control of the situation. I lost another rally, made a bad technical decision and gave another point away. Soon it was 10-10 and I was losing my mind in the process. I lost 15-10, I never scored again in that game. The tiebreaker to 11 was worse, I felt like I could barely hit the front wall. My opponent tightened up at the end as well, and between the two of us we put on one of the worse displays of racquetball in the Open division finals in the state’s history. I lost 11-7.
As far as I know, the second place trophy is still on top of the parking structure roof. I tossed it there on my way to the car; I was so disgusted with myself and I knew I could never look at that trophy again, so I tossed it. I blew my chance, and my name only ended up on that trophy 10 years later when I won the Doubles Championship instead of the singles. But I did learn a lot because of that loss, it in retrospect it was probably better for me to have lost than won that match. There is not much solace in that, but I guess the fact that it happens to lots of athletes makes me feel a little better. Here is another example…
If you have ever watched any PGA golf events, this is a perfect example of how this can play out. In this years’ Masters Event, Scottie Scheffler who was ranked #1 in the world before this event, struggled to finish strong in the event. He had enough of a lead that he was able to hold off a few other players who were putting together a late run on Sunday. Despite having cemented himself as one of the best in the world, and the number 1 player for 2022, he was struggling at times. He knew he was carving his name into the history of the game by winning this tournament. He would have an exemption to enter this tournament regardless of his future ranking, and many other benefits. He would be introduced as “2022 Masters’ Champion Scottie Scheffler” from now on. And that is a big pill to swallow.
But he had been in similar positions before; he has won tournaments before this one, and so he had some idea of how to handle the enormity of the situation. Despite having a few stumbles along the way, he held up well enough to win in the end. But as he eluded to in the post round interview, it wasn’t easy. Staring your dreams and your life’s work in the face is a lot to deal with.
Staying on the golf theme, many a player has confessed to a common approach to dealing with this: They become someone who would rise to the occasion, someone that wouldn’t falter. They pretend to be Tiger Woods. They play like Tiger would, fearless, confident, and like a champion. Only after they finish and win do they acknowledge that it was in fact them that held up under pressure. Tiger is a fellow human being, but he has shown throughout his long career an uncanny ability to handle the pressure of winning events. He has developed his ability to stay in the moment better than any other athlete I can think of. It is amazing to watch him do his thing, and this is why so many people loved to watch him as well. Its why so many non-golfers would tune in on a Sunday to see him do something amazing once again.
It takes practice to handle yourself in these situation. This means that you have to make it to the final round more than once to get the necessary reps in. If you play on the PGA tour, there is a new chance every week, literally. But then again the competition is tough and the guys who have already gotten their reps in are standing in your way. To quote Billie Jean King: “The Pressure is a Privilege”. That is a very true statement.
Getting out of your own way is not an easy thing. But if you ever find yourself in the privileged situation of having a shot at achieving something you’ve always wanted, remember the Tiger Woods trick if you think that would help. Become the player who has already established themselves as a Champion for the moment. Become your hero, until you can be the hero yourself.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.