Friday, 22 February 2013

Under pressure

I am fascinated by top quality sports players who can keep a cool head. The expression on top tennis player Roger Federer's face rarely changes regardless of his last shot - usually precise and well executed or occasionally a blunder. Either way Federer only shows a touch of emotion after a game as he effortlessly fields interviewer questions in a variety of European languages.

The England Rugby team have a new fly half who seems to be cast in the same unflappable mould. Owen Farrell has the ability to 'read' the international rugby game at lightening pace and make quick incisive decisions that boost England players and spectators. He concentrates impressively on kicking goals in front of huge crowds, come rain or shine. These are two outstanding performers under pressure.

Somewhere at the other extreme are us mere mortals. The mere hint of pressure has immediate implosive effects. A hard scrutinising stare from a customs officer is enough to convince me that I have unwittingly packed drink, cigarettes and drugs into my hand luggage. Somehow, despite a clear conscience, my brain then tells me to act normally - which is a ridiculous instruction to give really. How can you act normally by thinking about it?

When I think too hard about my driving, I find I crash the gears. When I deliberately try to think of my PIN number at a cash machine with a queue behind me, I get the numbers mixed up - then I have to pretend I am going somewhere to buy something and whilst thinking of what to buy I let my subconscious brain deal with the PIN number. Endless times I have shouted at the computer telling me I have entered the wrong password/login only to realise, after watching something on TV for a minute, that I have imploded through lack of concentration.

Currently our county chorus choir is rehearsing Verdi's Requiem. I find myself surrounded my people who have sung this piece many times - so much so that in one case at least the whole score is known by heart. This is not a piece of music that lends itself to sight reading; so I feel under considerable pressure to get the right notes at the right time using the right words. In these early practices I find I can confidently get about 1 note in 10 - which means singing little snatches of chorus hoping the conductor will not be too aware of my limited contribution. Unfortunately I suspect it is all too obvious. All singers who know a piece of music look at the conductor whilst others have their heads down looking at the music.

I suppose the real trick is to focus, mentally, on what I am trying to achieve and be absolutely convinced that the concentration effort will be worthwhile.

So the ticking clock, demands of a loved one or the opinions of friends and family are no longer pressure - just a spur to getting a particular job done, properly. Result!

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