Pressure. We all feel it at different times and in different ways. We have also all witnessed sports people delivering in high pressure situations. In sport, these moments transcend our culture and become moments in time, think Ben Stokes at Headingley in 2019, Graeme McDowell at Celtic Manor in 2010 or Maddie Hinch in the Olympic final at Rio 2016.

We all face our own versions of these moments in our lives. Each of these situations is unique, so how can we best learn to deal with moments of high-pressure? Over the course of their careers, each of these athletes would have exposed themselves to similar moments, experienced similar emotions and learnt about how to best perform under pressure. Yet hardly any of these experiences would have been consciously planned to prepare the athlete for their date with destiny, because no-on could have foreseen how it would play out (just ask Nathan Lyon when he appeared to bowl Stokes LBW, only for Australia to have used up all of their reviews).

In any complex environment, our best approach is to probe, sense and respond. We must test the complex system (in the situation of an athlete in a pressure moment, this is the athlete themselves), make sense of the response (our feelings and emotions), learn from it, and then respond in an appropriate manner.

This brings me onto the title of this post, insultation. Another way to approach complex environments would be to try to control the situation and reduce the levels of uncertainty, insulate ourselves from the system, rather than embracing and exploring it. In the case of an athlete in a pressure situation, this would be stepping back from the moment rather than being open to it. An example perhaps, is asking not to take a penalty in a shootout.

The problem is, we cannot see the pressure moments that are coming down the track, and they could well be bigger than the one that is in front of us. Wrapping ourselves or others in insulation will only harm us in the long run, when we are exposed to a bigger stressor.

When we work with athletes therefore, we need to find ways to expose them to pressure, perhaps at a lower scale or with fewer consequences, but pressure none the less. This also goes for kids and youth athletes. We cannot remove all elements of challenge and competition from youth sport (a topic for a bigger discussion perhaps), just as we cannot protect our kids from every bad thing in the world (as much as we may want to).

Just as cold leaks in through the best insulation, life still happens to us, we just need to be prepared.

One area I wanted to be better at in my life was presenting and public speaking. I knew it was important for my job, and I wanted to be engaging when addressing groups of people. To practise, I gave talks in relatively safe environments, in schools where friends were teachers and at my Alma Mater with athletes there. I exposed myself to discomfort in friendly arenas first, before bigger stages later on.

What small way can you experience discomfort without massive consequence, that will help prepare you for the future?