We all face pressure – whether it’s exams, work demands or sporting tournaments. And if you’re a competitive gamer or someone who likes to play online multiplayer games, it’s hard to not feel said pressure when you’re up against a tough opponent.
Matthew Syed, former table tennis pro and the author of Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, has posted some good advice today on the BBC website. Here’s our pick of the quotes to help you deal with pressure when playing online.
“We are competitive animals and, however we decide to evaluate each other, we are occasionally going to get nervous,” Matthew says.
“When I played at the Olympic Games in Sydney as Britain’s top table tennis player, I was in the form of my life. But when I walked out into the mega-watt light of the competition arena, I could hardly hit the ball. To put it simply, I choked.
“Why does it happen? The neuroscience of choking is rather intriguing, and it can best be understood by considering what happens when you are walking along the street.
“None of us actually think about the mechanics of how we walk as we are ambling along – we are thinking about what we are going to have for dinner, or what we are going to say at our next meeting, for example.
“But now imagine that you are walking along a narrow path with a 10,000 foot precipice on either side. Now, we might think about how we are moving our feet, the angle of our tread, the precise footfall on the path. And this, of course, is when we are most likely to fall.
“Walking is, when you think about it, quite a complex set of movements and if we think too much about them we are far more likely to get confused. This, incidentally, is why walking feels so weird when we are in front of a lot of people, like at graduation.”
Trust your gut
Matthew goes on to say that trusting the subconscious part of your brain and downplaying your perceived importance of said event, or in this case, game, is a great way of alleviating pressure.
It’s actually something we do while playing FIFA Ultimate Team. When opponents see our collection of In-Form Arsenal players at the start of a match, this actually spurs them on. They up their game to have the privilege of beating a side that is perhaps better than theirs, spurring them on to put in the extra effort. The pressure is actually on us to deliver a strong performance that’d be expected with a squad full of top players.
By playing calmly and casually, instead of consciously trying to score or race to the opponent’s goal, we find results usually swing our way. Let your rival think about it too much and make the mistakes.
Preparation is key
We once read that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
“In preparation for the Olympics, athletes will spend as much time as possible getting used to the competition venue – the lighting, feel, and acoustics,” Matthew says.
“They will also have studied possible opponents and planned a routine for the hours leading up to the contest, so that everything is smooth and calm. By ensuring that they are not assailed by the unexpected, they are less likely to experience stress.”
With gaming, planning is less important. It’s likely that you’ll already have played the game extensively before entering a competitive tournament or even an advanced multiplayer mode. And if you haven’t – then why not? Practice makes perfect.
Play a mix of single-player and multiplayer modes – humans and AI obviously play very differently. It’s no good mastering Modern Warfare 3’s one-player mode if you want to beat other gamers online but can’t even defeat little Billy the noob from Texas.
Remind yourself that a big game – for example a tournament final – is, from a different perspective, not that big after all.
Matthew explains: “Even a huge exam is not as important as, say, a loving family, or good health. And even a huge job interview can be put into perspective by looking up at the stars and remembering that it is all rather trivial in the grand scheme of things.
“Many athletes attempt to change their frame of reference, in this way, just before big matches. At one competition, I remember hearing an opponent muttering under his breath: “It is only bloody ping pong!.”
“It seemed to calm him. He defeated me by three games to one.”
Give it a try the next time you’re about to face a particularly tough opponent on Halo: Reach, Tekken, FIFA or whatever else you play online or in tournaments.
It’s only a game, after all.
Image courtesy of Major League Gaming
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
A keen League player and WoW RPer, he has written for a range of publications including Games TM, Nintendo Official Magazine, games industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games. He currently works as full-time content director for the British Esports Association.