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Activities That Teach You to Excel Under Stress

Alain Haller explains why the right mindset before a game could be the difference between winning and losing.

There is no separation between the mind and the body, as any sports psychologist will tell you. So much of our performance in all areas of life is reflective of our mental state, feelings, and the current issues we are facing. For any athlete, the right mindset before a game could be the difference between winning and losing.

The famous author Frank Herbert wrote in the Novel Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer.” Fear shuts your thought process down and interrupts your natural flow and rhythm. Stress, in many ways, is the more common manifestation of fear that we deal with in our daily lives. 

Athletes need to learn to manage stress and not let it affect them if they want to be successful. It is near impossible to eliminate stress. To be a successful athlete, you need to learn to perform under stress. Luckily there are many activities we can practice that will simultaneously train us to perform well under pressure regardless if we are playing sports or anything else.

Playing Poker

When you think about it, poker is a fantastic activity to learn the techniques for stress management and decision-making under pressure. Studies have shown that this game can stimulate the brain and enhance the mind by expanding your thinking and logic skills. Poker is a game that involves risk, strategy, loss, and gains, all concepts that apply to every sport.

When you are playing poker, you are up against many other players who all have the same goal as you; to take all your chips. There is a sense of peril, as a bad hand or play could cost you a sizeable stack of chips, in the same way, that overextending and missing your shot in soccer or basketball could give the advantage to the other team. There are many similarities between all high-stakes activities and the principles you learn when managing stress in poker are 100% applicable to any sport.


There is an immense amount of detail we could get into if we were to discuss how the foundations of chess formations are comparable to those on the soccer pitch, or any sports field. That, however, is an abstract concept that is debatable. What is a solid fact is that chess can be an overwhelmingly stressful game, and learning to play chess well and manage stress during your games will carry over to live sports.

In chess, your mind must always be going. Not only are there numerous possibilities unfolding in front of you with every move, but there is also one common enemy - the clock. Time is always ticking in chess, just like a sport’s clock is running out. If you are behind in a game of basketball or hockey, the clock is one of the biggest threats, as the less time you have, the less likely it is that you can come back to win.

The concepts are indeed the same in chess. The entire game is so much about positioning, and thus you need always to be thinking and reacting, much the same as you do in sports. You have to push stress out of your mind so you can imagine with a clear head and make the necessary plays you need to rally with your team.

Video Games

While I do not want to encourage anyone to stay inside playing games over playing sports outside, it is hard to deny that video games teach you to perform well under stress. Numerous studies have been done researching video games concerning stress. Nearly every sport you can play has time restraint or high-stakes activity.

When it comes to genres, fighting games, for instance, are well renowned as being some of the most stressful games there are. It is an incredibly intimate scenario. It is you versus one opponent, where every move or mistake can be the end of the round or match. It becomes high stress, and you must learn to perform under pressure and time restraints if you want to excel.

The lessons learned here are easily applied to real-life scenarios regardless of what sport you may play. In essence, video games and esports contain all the same concepts as real sports. There is a sense of stakes, wins and losses, high adrenaline that affects your play, and overall, a sense of stress and pressure that weighs on you. Athletes cannot change or remove these factors. They need to learn to perform when everything is on the line.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • HALLAR, A. (2020) Activities That Teach You to Excel Under Stress [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Alain Haller is a freelance journalist and writes about nutrition and training.