How do you create pressure situations in your practice?
That’s a question coaches ponder a lot. Especially when they see their team crumble in intense match situations.
The fact of the matter, though, is that there are different types of pressure. Some are mainly individual, while others are more team.
In the case of individual pressure, we’re talking about a situation where one player must execute (we tend to think of this as mental toughness). That could be at the service line. It could be in serve reception. Or it could be as a hitter. These are situations where the individual player feels the pressure to perform well. Actually, it’s probably more a “not screwing up” type of pressure in terms of their self-talk, but that’s a different subject.
Creating individual pressure requires putting a player in a position where they have to execute. There’s an example of this in John Cook’s book, Dream Like a Champion. In it he describes a hitter vs. defense game where one attacker must win a game against a full defense. If they lose, they play again. They repeat the game until the player wins.
Now, that’s an example of individual pressure in a very individualized situation. There are also ways to create individual pressure in a more team situation. The run-and-serve drill is an example of this from a serving perspective. If we think of serve reception, though, we can create a situation where one player receives every ball. Their team cannot execute the offense if they cannot provide a good pass. Alternatively, flip things around and say that only a specific hitter can score.
While individual pressure is about putting the spotlight on a specific player (or position), team pressure is about the collective. This is about the team needing to come back from behind, or perhaps to close out a set when ahead. It’s about them staying focused and connected when the pressure is on, and not falling victim to fear and doubt.
One interesting game you can play from this perspective is 25 or reset. I’ve also seen it referred to as “slip and slide”. Basically, if a team gets to 24 and does not score they have to reset back to wherever you started the score (e.g. 19). This combines the pressure to close a team out with the drive to keep fighting if you’re the losing team.
On a smaller scale, wash games are little pressure situations. The team must, for example, win two rallies in a row. That increases the pressure on the second ball – for both sides.
A lot of coaches use some kind of punishment for losing to create pressure, like sprints. I’m not a fan of this, as I’ve discussed. Further, research suggests it actually may not improve motivation. If the desire to win is intrinsic, then losing should be enough of a punishment. You don’t need anything else. If your players aren’t naturally competitive, then you need to tie something they care about in terms of playing the game to winning. That, though, is a different topic of discussion.
Similarly, if a player cares at all about the quality of their play, then failing to execute at an individual level will leave them feeling disappointed. Why, then, is anything extra required? If your players are not worried about their quality of play, then you may have some other problems to address before worrying about how they do under pressure.
You may also find the post A couple ways to develop mental toughness interesting.