Do we need training in working under pressure?

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We all understand the importance of working under pressure. Any job interview these days will likely include a question or a test assessing your ability to work in pressured situations, whether it be working to a deadline or in a less-than-organised environment. So why is there so little preparation for these moments?

Nature or nurture?

One of the most frustrating things about university life is the apparent readiness of quite a lot of people to wilt under pressure. Exam or essay stresses often get the better of undergraduates, to the point where it’s even been discussed whether we are simply asking too much.

This assumes, however, that ability to cope with pressure is somehow innate, and that we can’t possibly expect to seriously improve people’s ability to think and act correctly in such situations. Since we’re not scientists, we can’t disprove this, but certain evidence seems to contradict it.

TCUP

A fascinating recent article over at The Guardian week tells us that one of the secrets of the current England rugby team is that Eddie Jones is training them to deal with pressure, specifically in the last twenty minutes of a game. As the article points out, this is hardly a new innovation. Some football coaches have been doing it for years, including the current managers of Manchester United and Manchester City. In fact, it may be this training that helped the latter in the final twenty minutes of last Tuesday’s Champions League tie.

Indeed, Clive Woodward was one of the first to bring it into rugby. His England team were taught about the importance of TCUP – Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. TCUP “can be loosely defined as preparing for every possible eventuality, so that his players would know exactly how to approach any given situation”. TCUP became a mantra used by many of the England players. Will Greenwood has cited it when discussing their comeback against Wales in the quarter-finals of the 2003 World Cup. The ultimate culmination of this training was that infamous kick that won England the tournament. In the most high pressured moment, it was mental rather than physical strength that gave England the edge.

Time for a change

Extrapolated away from sport, it is about preparing yourself mentally or otherwise for any possible scenario that might occur in a particular situation. Expect the very unlikely, and prepare accordingly. With a long-term perspective, it becomes strategic thinking. In the short-term, it might be called tactical thinking. In the situation itself, we lack a better term than TCUP itself.

Although there are plenty of internet articles out there for those who want a quick overview, we may want to look at how training in TCUP could be embedded more deeply into business practices, and perhaps even into our educational institutions.