The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

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The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

Under Pressure

Michael Gross Co-Editor-in-Chief

A foul is called as time expires. It’s the championship game; the game, the season is in your hands as you step up to the free throw line.

Pencils sharpened, calculator at your side; it’s the final exam; your grade is on the line.

Pressure. It is part of the game; it is part of life. But, what exactly is it? And what can we do to relieve it?

Pressure is the perceived expectation of the need to perform well under arduous situations, typically coming from others’ or your own expectations.  Some thrive under pressure, while some crumble; is performing in the clutch, or choking in the final seconds because of genetics, or does it come with experience?

Whether it is sinking the jump shot as the buzzer sounds, hitting the game-winning homerun in the bottom the 9th, or acing the final exam to finish with your desired grade, performing in the clutch requires confidence. You have to want to take the last shot, be the last batter, and have the opportunity to take the final exam; you have to want to be under pressure. Growing up as an avid sports player, coaches always told me to envision myself succeeding, to be calm and confident. If you are hesitant, more times than not you will come up short. Clutch performers possess the almost magical ability to overcome the butterflies and block everything else out, focusing on their one goal. With that being said, is this magical ability attainable?

Along with confidence, experience in the clutch is vital; in order to cope with the pressure, you must understand what the pressure is. You have to find a way to reenact the situation, but it has to go beyond simply shooting free throws or completing hundreds of practice problems (or running around the track pretending it’s the State meet). That would only be simulating half of the experience. Even when practicing, something has to be on the line, just like in the real thing. For instance, if you miss a free throw, you have to run a suicide. In order to succeed, you have to know the exact feeling of failure, so that you want to not lose more than you want to win.

Time and time again, I around the track at my neighborhood park (then acting as the announcer) The final stretch of the Illinois Cross Country Championship … it’s Gross! He is all by himself! Gross is the State champion! The crowd is going wild, what a tremendous moment for the Latin runner! Trust me, as much fun as this is, it does not suffice for a simulated pressure situation.

However, having confidence and experience is much easier said than done. There are simpler things that can help you get in the zone, such as listening to your favorite songs on noise-cancelling headphones, which literally blocks out everything around you. Pressure sparks a feeling of discomfort; doing things that are comfortable or routine, such as a pre-game or pre-test ritual, can therefore help mitigate the pressure, and allow you to hone in on your goal.

Here at Latin, along with the sports, we experience all types of academic pressure, ranging from a perfect transcript to getting the ACT score you so desperately wanted. More times than not, the stress comes from the parents or the student, rather than the teacher; Students and parents often have simply impractical expectations, that they work night and day to accomplish, and ultimately collapse when they fail to succeed. When taking a final exam, or completing a major project, students have the misconceived perception that it is not only their grade that is on the line, but their future. Junior Aidan Sarazen said, “The competitive academic climate at Latin makes the pressure to get ‘good’ grades overwhelming. Academic pressure and competition is only healthy in small doses, and unfortunately at Latin, academic pressure is heavy.”  While under pressure, you have to block everything out – your competitive group of friends and the sometimes-unrealistic expectations of your parents. Like sports, the people who thrive under academic pressure are the ones with remarkable ability to calm the butterflies and focus on the task at hand.

With both sports and academics, you must, from time to time, put everything in perspective, and realize that it is just one game, or one test, and even though it hurts tremendously to lose or bomb an exam, everything will be OK; you have to accept and learn from your failures.

Obviously, it is impossible to always succeed. Michael Jordan, arguably the most clutch performer in sports history, once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” What separates the “chokers” from the “Mr. Clutchs” is the resilience – the desire to take the last shot, or the final exam, time and time again after failure; they use the failure as motivation to succeed, whereas “chokers” allow it to make them hesitant during the next pressured situation.]]>

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