Poise And Composure: How Will You Handle The Situation?

Posted by Tyler Bradstreet

Today I will be focusing on Step 4 of the 7-Step model of developing mental toughness I introduced four weeks ago.

To refresh, the 7-step model is:

1.) Find the right attitude and state of mind.
2.) Program your mind for success ahead of time.
3.) Find an appropriate routine.
4.) Poise and composure.
5.) Take control of negative self-talk.
6.) Look at failure as a stepping stone for future achievement.
7.) Be a difference maker; step up and have a peak performance when it matters most.

So, lets get to it.

Step 4 – Poise and Composure

I know this may be hard to believe but…things will not always go your way in sport.

To be successful in athletic competitions, an athlete must learn how to let go of mistakes or feelings of frustration if things do not go the way they want them to.


Example: In football, a referee flags you for defensive pass interference, however, its obvious to everyone at the game but him that the wide receiver merely tripped and fell down on his own. You begin to argue with the referee over the bad call – even when you know the official is not going to change his call.

(This is a case of “focusing on an uncontrollable” – an idea I have covered recently)

The result – you become upset or frustrated…. losing your composure, and it negatively affects your performance for the rest of the game.

There are three keys to maintaining poise and composure throughout an athletic event.

Number One: Compensate; Adjust; Trust

As an athlete, you may realize very quickly into a sport competition that you don’t have your “A” game, or you just aren’t at 100%. What are you going to do? Are you just going to give it and call it a loss cause?

A mentally tough athlete knows that they must compensate – provide a substitute or counterbalance – for the performance issues at hand.


For example – A strikeout style pitcher comes to the mound to start the game and quickly realizes the velocity on his pitches just isn’t there like it usually is. After finishing the first inning, it is clear he is not going to strike anyone out by throwing fastballs – each player who came to the plate put the ball deep into play. To compensate for this, he decides he must be more accurate and throw different pitches in a location and sequence that will keep the hitter off-balance.

Once an athlete decides how they will compensate, they must adjust accordingly. How are you going to specifically implement this new plan?

Back to the previous example – Once the pitcher comes to the mount during the second inning, in order to implement his new plan to stay competitive in the game, the pitcher throws pitches on the outside and away part of the plate, mixing in a variety of off-speed pitches to keep the hitters guessing. By changing his style from fastball strikeout pitcher to more of a finesse ground ball pitcher, he has kept himself competitive.

Lastly, the athlete must trust their abilities in this new, compensating role, although it may be out of their comfort zone. Are you confident in your abilities enough to where you believe you will succeed?

Number Two: Have a plan A…plan B… plan C.

Athletes have goals and expectations set for how they want to perform in competitions. A key to successfully reaching these goals is establishing an action plan – what are you going to do to attain this goal?

However, as we all have come to find out, your initial plan may not work. So what do you do now? To be successful, you must think ahead about situations such as this and plan accordingly. In other words, what will your back-up plan be?

This is also an important concept to keep in mind when setting goals.

  1. Set goals
  2. Determine action plan to attain goals
  3. Establish contingency plan (back-up plan)
  4. Assess if goals were met, if they weren’t, adjust goals accordingly and repeat.

Number Three: Be persistent

To be a successful athlete, don’t allow frustration to undermine your confidence and focus. No matter what sport you play, your performance is not always going to be at its maximum level. How are you going to handle the lows?

Perfect example of this is the idea of having a “shooter’s mentality” in basketball. As a basketball player, you will be deemed successful if you make 40-45% of your shots. So, you obviously will miss a couple every now and then. When you hit a stretch of basketball where your shot isn’t going in…what are you going to do? If you are confident in your abilities and focused on attaining your goals, you won’t allow those missed shots to shake your beliefs in your abilities and you will continue playing the game as your always do.


Alright, to recap:

1.) Compensate –>; Adjust –>; Trust

2.) Establish a plan A…plan B…plan C… etc.

3.) Be persistent: Be confident in your abilities and focused on attaining your goals

Ultimately, in order to establish poise and composure, play within yourself. Do not allow things out of your control to undermine your confidence. Also, if your normal game plan cannot be implemented, think ahead and establish a back-up plan you can be confident in prior to the competition.

Developing poise and composure will help you continue to build a strong foundation needed to be mentally tough.

Tyler C. Bradstreet
Master’s Student: Sport and Exercise Psychology
Teaching Fellow: Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion, and Recreation
Sport Psychology Consultant: Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence
University of North Texas: Denton, TX


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