Can you simulate the pressure of the Games?

Athletes who have attended previous major international sports events will have experienced similar pressure, but outside the emotional cauldron of an Olympic stadium the pressure is hard to imagine and probably impossible to replicate.

A recent theory by Jones and colleagues suggests that athletes can respond to pressure positively (challenge) or negatively (threat). But just because athletes cannot simulate the magnitude of pressure, that does not mean they will crumble at the Games.

It is possible to simulate some pressure, even if it is not at the intensity that is likely to be experienced at the real thing. This helps athletes to develop a range of coping skills.

An athlete may train under pressure, by making practice competitive, setting high goals and practising with the sounds of an excited crowd. For example, research conducted by Turner and colleagues used match-situation pressure testing in training with elite cricketers. They found the cricketers showed the psychological and physiological reactions that usually accompany high-pressure situations.

An athlete may also prepare mentally for competition by imagining how they will feel before their event, drawing on previous experiences under pressure and imagining coping with those feelings.

There is plenty of evidence in psychology that exposure to some pressure will help develop resilience that will transfer to the high pressure environment of the Olympic competition. So simulating the pressure of the Olympic Games is not necessary.

For some competitors the unique pressure of the Olympic Games can push them beyond what they have previously achieved. So pressure isn’t all bad. For many it will inspire the performance of a lifetime.