Designing Internal Pressure for Your Sports Training

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a book I’ve devoured (twice), notated and referenced over and over again – “Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by Angela Duckworth. The full quote is eight words, but my favorite three are these “effort counts twice.”

As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.

Angela Duckworth, GRIT

When coaches look at a training group or session, we try to create the best possible environment for growth and grit; we design a session that will push athletes to the edge of their comfort zones while also creating opportunity for them to learn, acquire new skill, train a developing/current skill and give them chances to compete under pressure. We are trying to create pressure situations and we expect effort.

Here’s the tricky part though – external pressure from the practice design is only one part of the needed pressure to create effort. Athletes are used to performing for their coaches, for each other, for their parents but many of them need to be trained in how to compete or perform for themselves. And that internal pressure is what creates the effort necessary to not only grow and learn, but to prepare for the pressure that comes in competition and the knowledge of what to do with it when it shows up.

Most athletes are inherently aware that the reason they train is to get better, but many of them are not equipped to handle more than the learning part of sport when it comes time to cash in their training and use what they know on the competition field.

Pressure is a Privilege

In order to understand what external vs. internal pressure looks like in a particular training session, we need to blend the coaching and athlete world for a second. The chart below shows a few drills from warm-up to cooperation drills to buy-out or “doghouse” or warrior drills. In the first column are drills created by the coach to create external pressure on the athlete. In order for the athlete to take responsibility and ownership of their training time or in any particular drill, they can create their own internal pressure to get the most from it.

EXTERNAL PRESSURE is created through focus, keys/cues and intent of the drill. INTERNAL PRESSURE is added by the athlete. For training to effectively transfer into effort on the competition field, both external and internal pressure should be present. Can it work without the athlete creating internal pressure and relying on the external pressure alone?


It works all the time. But as athletes begin to take their sport more seriously or the level of competition rises, they begin to take on more responsibility for their outcomes. The idea though is to get athletes to own their training time so that when pressure is created by a drill, a tough opponent, an adverse situation in competition, an athletes effort is not affected. Pressure prepares us to compete. Therefore, we need to practice being in pressure situations instead as often as possible. Training or practice creates these opportunities.

Creating Pressure, Taking Responsibility

This isn’t a call to arbitrarily put more pressure on athletes for the sake of having a better practice or creating desirable difficulty – though both will likely happen. The goal here is to begin placing responsibility on the athlete as they progress through the sport. Why though? Because it’s their journey. As coaches we guide that journey. As parents, we support that journey and as athletes, you live that journey. When athletes don’t take responsibility of their journey (within developmentally appropriate means), the likelihood of burn out is greater.

What seems to be on trend the past decade or so in youth sports is medal counts, number of athletes committed or signed and flashy drills or workouts that don’t translate to competition. What seems to not be trending? Those club teams posting the same athletes de-committing, entering the transfer portal after one season or the ones who come home after a year because they were chasing someone else dream.

See, effort isn’t going to show up just because someone is playing a sport or chasing the coach or parent’s dream. Effort comes as a result of the right external stimulus for growth (the practice plan) plus the internal drive and pressure (making that practice work for me) to meet the demands of that stimulus. When these two meet, kids don’t just get better at sports, they chase their personal and team goals too.

Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury, The CrossFit Games and OPEX Fitness. She written two performance journals

30 Day Return to Play: An Edge in Sports, Mental Reps for Life

30 Day Reset Journal: An Edge in Sports, Habits for Life

She is an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, SEC Freshman and Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s prestigious Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She has coached at the youth, high school, club and collegiate level. She is married with two children and currently coaches performance and mindset journaling to youth and college athletes and coaches.

Published by pytallman

Wife, mother, Christ follower.

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