Under Pressure

There have been two fascinating articles published in the past few days talking about how we perform under pressure.  Both are fascinating reading.

In the first, The Guardian examines why athletes choke.  The short answer: you think too much.  When you’re a master athlete, you have muscle memory and your actions are literally built into your body.  If you think too hard about what you’re doing your brain, rather than your muscles, takes over and you fail.

The second article is the Times talking about how some soldiers seem to have a sixth sense for danger.  In this instance, the brain is processing images subconsciously faster than it can consciously.  Humans appear to build a subconscious model of normal situations and tiny variations of this can be sensed sometimes preattentively (this isn’t magic; the Gestalt philosophers knew this).

There’s a chemical element at play in the Times article too: Navy Seals under pressure release the same amount of cortisol as normal soldiers, but they are able to recover to a normal level much faster.

I’ve no idea how to interpret all of this, but there are some interesting themes.  Training makes it easier for you to recover to normal faster, meaning that you can use your muscle memory rather than having to think?  A well-developed mental model makes it easier for you to find patterns and deviations from that pattern, meaning that you can then respond more quickly without thinking?  Anyone want to speculate?

Behind the Bench

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that the Celtics blew away the Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA finals to win their 17th championship – and first in 22 years.

Celtics Championship

A lot has been made about the structure of the team and how management built a team around the three stars of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.  What’s equally interesting is what goes on away from the parquet.  The team is owned by a syndicate of 25 financiers, mostly venture capitalists and private equity veterans.

What does this mean?  Well, they’re fiercely competitive but also metrics driven.  Maybe that’s why they crunch the numbers on every datapoint they can get about their competition and essentially model how the team should react to different teams and players.

You’re never going to win in sport without great players – but great players alone aren’t going to beat a team that hustles this hard off the court.