Raising the Stakes

Former basketball player Michael Jordan
Image via Wikipedia

You read about athletes artificially raising the stakes when they practice or are playing at other sports. Michael Jordan would bet thousands on a single round of golf, had a well-documented love for gambling and was known as being the most competitive person you’ll ever meet.

While he was enjoying the thrill of high stakes bets he was exercising his tolerance for performing well under pressure. Michael Jordan had a reputation as being the one player you wanted to take the last shot of the game as the clock was ticking down, the all-or-nothing shot. The chances are that with his skill, he had a better than most chance of knocking it down. But what separated Michael from the rest of the field is that he had trained and conditioned his mind to handle these singular moments of pressure. To him, it wasn’t a physically or mentally paralyzing experience, it was actually fun, something he really wanted to do. Because he knew that the stakes, however they had been built up on television and in the crowd, gave him an opportunity to face the pressure and perform. The thrill of hitting that last shot feeds into a well of confidence, into that story that Michael kept retelling himself: “I love pressure, give me the last shot, I want the ball when everything is on the line, I know I make that shot.”

In reality, he missed a lot of those last second shots, but those misses didn’t affect the story that he told himself.

Michael, he was all about pressure.

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