Billie Jean King, The Super Bowl, and Performance Under Pressure

Super Bowl 51 was amazing. The superlatives piled up, one after another; greatest Super Bowl ever, biggest comeback ever, best QB of all time, best coach coach of all time, worst late-game offensive play call in the history of anything, craziest catch….it goes on and on.

But what struck me more than anything, what will stick with me long after the details of the game are forgotten, was a quote on the pre-game show. FOX analyst Howie Long’s son Chris was playing in the game, and FOX did a nice father-son piece on the two of them. Howie’s wife, Diane Addonizio, joined the pre-game hosts on the set after the story. When asked how she dealt with the stress and pressure of being a parent with a son in the Super Bowl, Addonizio responded simply “Pressure is a privilege.” I. Love. That.

The quote came from tennis great Billie Jean King, from her book by the same title. It perfectly sums up the sentiment that pressure, and stress, can be GOOD things. Can pressure indicate a negative situation? Yes. But it can also be a natural by-product of trying to do something great. We should all embrace the opportunity to feel the pressure of achievement; it means we’ve been privileged enough to have a chance at success, a chance to do something significant, memorable and important.

Stress and pressure are constant in today’s world; there is no way around it. We are busier than ever, and internal and external factors can certainly make things difficult. We are taught to relax, take deep breaths, and do everything we can to deal with the pressure and manage (or avoid) stress. Unfortunately, stress and pressure are at times unavoidable; perhaps we are better off embracing it— using it to our advantage— rather than running from it.

At FocalPoint, we talk about this in terms of a Victor/Victim (or, if we are feeling salty, Winner/Whiner) mentality. In any situation, work or personal, we are bound to come across obstacles in our way. There is a fine line between viewing an obstacle as an opportunity (the Victor mentality) or a problem (the Victim mentality). A Victor mentality means keeping yourself above that line— viewing obstacles in a positive way, taking responsibility for the situation and ownership of the outcome, having the vision to see the solution. The Victim mentality is one of blaming others and making excuses for one’s own mistakes, of negativity and denial when looking at the situation. Which do you think leads to more pressure and stress (or, better stated, which is a better way to handle the pressure and stress that will inevitably occur)?

It comes down to approach, to attitude, the ability to harness that stress and pressure and use it to your advantage. Of course, you should take the necessary steps to reduce stress— exercise, eat right, get a good night’s sleep, slow down, relax. But at the same time, learn to embrace the good stress that can lead to success. To recognize those times when pressure is, indeed, a privilege.


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