Can England win under pressure? Performance coach Amana Walker's 5 tips for finding your mental edge

History will weigh heavily on the shoulders of Gareth Southgate’s team when they walk out at Wembley on Sunday. Here, performance coach Amana Walker offers advice on coping with pressure for all of us

Harry Kane and his England team-mates will have to conquer the pressure that weighs on them (Photo by Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images)
Harry Kane and his England team-mates will have to conquer the pressure that weighs on them (Photo by Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images)

The pressure is building for the England team and no wonder: they are performing under the glare of the European (if not global) spotlight.

The lads will be feeling it because:

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• They carry the weight of a nation on their shoulders .

Performance coach Amana Walker

• Expectations - their own and everyone else’s , are extremely high.

• There’s a place in history at stake.

• The competition - that mighty Italian team - will fight tooth and nail to win.

At this level, winning is less about skill and talent (both teams have that in abundance). When the stakes are high, winning is about having the right mentality.

And coping with the pressure of the occasion will be the deciding factor.

Why is that?

It’s normal for self -doubt to start creeping in, even when you know you’re good at what you do, and even though the England team will have practiced their game and analysed every inch of the Italian team’s style and tactics , the ‘what if’s?’ can still raise their ugly heads.

This will be happening right now, it will be happening as they sit on the coach to Wembley Stadium, in the dressing room, and when they walk out onto the pitch.

And if the game goes to penalties… it will be happening as they take the long walk up for their penalty shot.

What if I’m not at my best? What if they score early? What if I concede a penalty? What if I miss a penalty? What if I let the side down? What if we lose…?

So, what can our boys and frankly, any of us, do when we so badly want to achieve but are under severe pressure?

Well, here are 5 things that will improve your psyche and give you that mental edge:

1. Master your ‘self-talk’

The way you talk to yourself will either fuel your success or send you into a downward spiral - depending on the words (and emotion that goes with them) that you use. Yes, we do all have that pesky inner critic telling us what we don’t want to hear just at the time when we least need to hear it. You’ll know the voice I’m talking about; it goes something like this:

‘You’re not good enough’; ‘You’ll mess this up’; ‘You know you’ll fail’.

That inner voice can hold even the best performers in the world back. The trick to managing it and mastering your self-talk, is to answer that inner voice back and talk yourself up, like this:

‘I’m really good at this’; ‘I know I can do it’; ‘Nothing is going to stop me’

If you, as England do, want to raise your game, and perform well under severe pressure, listen carefully to your inner voice, and take control of it.

Do it every day. The practice makes you stronger.

2. Use your past successes to spur you on

Whatever success you’ve achieved in the past, it’s in the bag! They are yours to keep forever and crucially, your successes give you a platform to stand on.

If you’ve achieved once, you can achieve again.

Each success, regardless of how small, proves that when you are determined, when you persevere and when you want it badly, enough, you can overcome the obstacles and get there.

Use your past successes as your passport to the next one. Write a list of the stuff you are proud to have achieved and when you have a big event or goal ahead, get your list out and look at it. That successful person is you, and you have the talent to do more.

3. Visualise yourself achieving your goal

Visualisation is common amongst achievers and high performers.

By the way, if this sounds a bit too ‘out there’, it isn’t - an abundance of research tells us that this technique works, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do in life.

When it comes to success, the clearer the mental picture you have of yourself achieving your goal, the more likely you are to get there.

Both the England and Italian teams will be visualising themselves scoring goals, winning Euro 2020, and lifting that trophy. They will be visualising their fans cheering and coming home having made their family and country proud.

So, visualise yourself in detail, winning or achieving. And keep playing that scene in your mind.

Only when you can win mentally, can you win physically.

4. Support your teammates

One person's pressure is another person's easy day, we’re all different.

And just as in sport, not everyone’s pressure is visual - but they could still be struggling. Talk to your teammates/family, encourage them and be there to emotionally lift them up. Sometimes all it takes is for you to notice, or listen, or lend a helping hand. Teamwork, especially in sport, runs deep - the best teams will do anything for each other. They ‘fail’ together, and they win together.

Winning, and being successful is all about the climb to get there - the learning - and the blood, sweat and fears along the way.

The knock-on effect of you bending over backwards to support your team is that any pressure you feel is likely to lifted as your focus shifts onto someone, or something else. Being in a supportive environment builds our confidence and gives us the strength we need to win.

5. Turn fear into excitement

Your self-belief will skyrocket if you can switch that fear into excitement.

How? If you see the huge challenge that you face as one of the most exciting of your life.

Building excitement can override fear, so rather than thinking: ‘I’m worried about this’

Turn it into: ‘I can’t wait to face this’ or ‘I’m going to be superb‘ or ‘I’m going to enjoy every moment’.

I know, I know - when you’re worried you don’t feel excited - but the more you switch your language and tell yourself that you are, the more you will feel it physically and emotionally (causing your brain to release feel-good, performance enhancing chemicals).

Winning is about much more than skill, it’s about having self belief so strong that it’s palpable.

When the skill/talent is there, having that mental edge is the deciding factor between who wins and who loses.

And when it comes to the footy, England have to feel unstoppable.

Amana Walker is a performance coach who works with a range of business leaders and sports professionals. More info at www.amanawalker.com

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