Michael Jordan on how to handle high-stress pressure: 'Build your fundamentals'

  • Michael Jordan told ESPN he never let nerves impede his performance because of the way he practiced.
  • Jordan practiced harder than he played the games. He practiced so much he felt prepared for anything that came his way.
  • Psychologist Andres Ericsson says “deliberate practice” is the key to peak performance.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In high-stress situations – from a job interview to a championship game – your nerves can thwart optimal performance.

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan (who’s no stranger to pressure) has a solution.

Back when he used to play, the iconic athlete would get so stressed he’d need to constantly apply rosin powder to keep his palms from sweating.

Read more:
Steph Curry says he deals with high-pressure situations by tensing all the muscles in his body and then releasing them

Despite the sweaty palms, Jordan told ESPN reporter Jackie MacMullan he never felt the “pressure” of his shot. The secret to staying calm in high-stress situations came down to practice. Jordan built his fundamentals – whether they be free throws, defence, or passing – through practice.

“The only way to relieve that pressure is to build your fundamentals, practice them over and over, so when game breaks down, you can handle anything that transpires,” he told ESPN.

By the time the game came around, Jordan knew for a fact he could perform because of the practice. That way, he didn’t have to feel the doubt or concern that lead to nervousness.

“People didn’t believe me when I told them I practiced harder than I played, but it was true,” Jordan told ESPN. “That’s where my comfort zone was created. By the time the game came, all I had to do was react to what my body was already accustomed to doing.”

Practicing may have worked for one of the world’s greatest athletes, but not everyone is sold on its effectiveness. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist who studies the science behind peak performance, says spending hours merely repeating the same activity over and over alone won’t lead to better performance.

Instead, Ericsson says practice has limitations. Height and body size can have a meaningful impact on performance, and can’t be changed through more practice.

Ericsson told Business Insider the best way to improve at anything is through “deliberate practice,” or being fully present when you practice and doing activities that extend outside your current abilities. Jordan may have unintentionally engaged in deliberate practice, as he said he “worked harder” at the gym than at games, according to ESPN.

“That’s where my comfort zone was created,” Jordan said. “By the time the game came, all I had to do was react to what my body was already accustomed to doing.”

Read the full story on ESPN

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