Even Professionals Falter Under Pressure

In this November edition, fellow sports writer Lauren Thomas wrote a great story on the pressure and implications of penalty kicks in postseason soccer. This year, both our girls soccer and boys soccer teams fell in postseason play at the hands of PKs, a game largely decided by chance and guessing.

For the boys, it was a night of missed opportunities that was culminated in PKs. Forwards Jack Hancock and Max Mitchell, both seniors, were the first to step up for the Comets. Both of them missed. Mitchell sent his high over the bar and Hancock’s was easily controlled by the opposing keeper.

This sort of pressure isn’t just found in soccer, but another kind of football. There have been two ties in the NFL this season for the first time since 1997. In both instances, crucial late field goals could have swayed the game either way.

In Week 7, the Seahawks and Cardinals tied on Sunday Night Football. Both kickers had an opportunity to win the game for their team with under four minutes remaining. Both missed. Steven Hauschka of Seattle even missed a 28-yard field goal with just 7 ticks remaining in OT. Thats a shorter attempt than an extra point now.

The ensuing Sunday morning, the Bengals and Redskins tied in London. Although it may not have been such a strange occurrence for the English across the pond, it was an extremely dissatisfying ending for American fans. Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins had a chance to win it with a 34 yard field goal attempt with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. He missed, and neither team was able to score in the remaining two minutes.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Mason Comets took down the Elder Panthers 21-20. Although Matt Sora’s 39 carries for 250 yards is what made the headlines the next day, punter Reed Naglich had a punt with 30 seconds remaining that downed the Panthers at their own one-yard-line. If Reed shanks that punt, Elder has a few plays (with a passing attack that had been successful throughout the game) to get into field goal range and win it.

Chronicle sports writer Eric Michael interviewed Naglich about the moment, and he stressed how he simply went out and only thought about getting the punt off and clean. He thought about all the repetition that had led to successful punt after successful punt. He took a few deep breaths and told himself not to think about all the possible outcomes of a poor punt.

And boy, did he deliver.

Naglich’s example is one where a calming mentality and focus allowed him to deliver under the brightest lights.

Which brings me to my point. Often at home, we dream about catching a winning touchdown, hitting a walk-off grand slam, scoring the winning goal, etc. When these athletes, these professionals, finally had their opportunity to win it for their team, they faltered. My opinion? Enjoy it. This is the moment every athlete dreams about, wishes they could have.

This isn’t just present in sports. A salesman dreams about the perfect pitch; a journalist wishes they had the best, most revealing story; a recent college graduate might dream about the perfect job interview.

My message is this: opportunities to make an impact on a game, a sale, or your own career don’t come every day; that’s why the pressure is there. Shouldn’t we embrace the opportunity with joy and excitement? Sure nerves will come, but that’s when we all have to remember that the greater the pressure, the brighter the lights, that’s when we can reach our potential an accomplish something truly meaningful.

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