Pumped up or poker faced? The best method to perform.

I am often asked which works best, psyching yourself up or attempting to calm yourself down in stressful situations.

  Do you want to be Buddha like i.e. calm and utterly unflappable or do you want to punch the air and wear your heart on your sleeve letting everyone know when you feel the turmoil inside?

The first and most important thing to understand is that for most, apart from the coldest of human beings, this internal turmoil does exist whilst performing to a greater or lesser degree and we are looking for a way for an individual to not only deal with it but also utilize it to facilitate the best performance.  To this end it is not a “cop out” when I say that there is no right or wrong answer, as the strategy used by each individual will be driven by personal as well as cultural aspects.

I will start by saying that a coach or mentor enforcing their own coping strategies on a performer because they are functional for them is not going to work for that individual.  Personally I am a heart on my sleeve sort of a guy and over the years I have been told to be more poker faced and outwardly calm when performing in many different stressful situations.  I have tried to do that but found it constricting on an emotional and performance level.  I would agree that when I was younger I let my emotions run rampant leading to a poor performance whereas nowadays I can keep in check the more hysterical emotions that led to poor judgment and performance.  To this end I can be internally calm when competing, whilst appearing outwardly quite emotional and this is MY method of control.  For myself it is an absolute necessity that I deal with events that are unfolding around me, for the good and the bad, in an often exuberant manner.  For me personally it is neither possible nor acceptable to passively let the situation play out in front of me, however, I must be consistent in my reactions to the situation.  This means I must have a consistent level of response to good and bad results, many athletes can be seen to berate themselves for poor results but are never seen being positive for good results on a regular and consistent level.


There is a misconception amongst psychologists and coaches that emotions must be controlled to give the best performance.  In principle this is true however there is no need to treat the emotional response to pressure within sport any differently to that within an individuals daily life.   If it is in your nature to quietly and passively accept situations, both good and bad, then you must do this within your performance.  This is not a bad thing, and there are many individuals who treat positive and negative outcomes with a neutral or “poker faced” approach.  Similarly an exuberant approach may be equally as effective and we begin to see that an individuals outward demeanor evolves through the culture around them.  An oriental archer will show less emotion to a good or bad shot than an American, however neither approach is more effective than the other and it is a reflection of the culture that an individual has come from as to their outward reaction to stress.  So we quickly get to a point where it is how the individual deals with stress internally that is of fundamental importance and to this there are some right and wrong answers.


An individual MUST: congratulate or “pat themselves on the back” for achieving that which they set out to achieve, and similarly DEAL WITH, immediately, failure to achieve what they set out to achieve.  Every single shot must have a planned method and an expected outcome.  If the planned method is followed the archer must congratulate themselves; if the result is achieved the archer must congratulate themselves; if the planned method is not followed the archer must immediately “deal with it” and if this leads to a bad result the archer must accept this.  Finally if a good method is achieved with a poor result the archer can look to kit or external reasons (non technique based) for the apparent failure of that outcome.

Congratulating oneself should be easy and is as simple as “I did what I was trying to do, cool!”  There can be no concept of “I did what I was trying to do, but I’m sure I could have done it better”.

This “doing it better” will evolve over time and the level of performance will increase due to recognizing that what was specifically set out to be done was done.

So how does one “deal” with a poor outcome or application of method?

Many coaches will tell you to ignore this failure but for many this is impossible and it will eat away at their confidence to perform.  When dealing with failure it is vital that the individual does not question the method that they have, the method is gospel and they must believe that they can comfortably perform this method otherwise they must reassess this method.  Imagine that after a “bad shot” you could physically turn through 360 degrees on the line and return back to facing the target and ready to shoot the next arrow having adequately dealt with the previous failure.  This is done in four stages, the first 90 degrees of the circle is emotional (swear if that is what you do within your head or just accept the feelings of heightened emotion that failure brings), the next 90 degrees is a very superficial assessment of what failed (one aspect only e.g. poor hand position in grip), the next 90 degrees involves a re-iteration of the method that the individual has worked so hard in practice to utilize and trust and the final 90 degrees to get one back pointing at the target is the affirmation that the method is good and the individual is capable of performing this method adequately and easily.


Therefore pumped up or flat doesn’t matter.

The skilled performer has the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference.

They accept their performance frailties and deal with them, they congratulate themselves on achieving, even at the most simplistic level the things they are trying to achieve.  They are internally mature in their approach to performance and to this end the façade that is visible to the observer has little or no reflection on the internal goings on within their performance.  For those who are not honest with themselves dealing with stress, both positive and negative, will always be a difficult thing. On the inside, fist pumpers may be scared and unsure and those with poker faces may be crying inside their heads. Without an internal acceptance of the situations around us there can be no respite, so be honest with yourself and put on whatever façade makes you comfortable.


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