Combine pressure is high by design

"Focus on the right things"

"Throwing quarterbacks" don't come to the combine with high-profile news conferences and dreams of being drafted first overall.

They're invited to the combine primarily to throw to players at other positions, offensive and defensive players alike. But while they're helping out, scouts get to see their abilities, and they occasionally get drafted. In 2011, T.J. Yates came to the combine as a throwing quarterback and eventually was drafted by the Texans in the fifth round. He started a playoff victory his rookie season.

So even without the attention paid to them, there's pressure to perform well.

"Pressure is part of the game. I think they're purposely trying to put pressure on you to see how you're going to respond to it," said Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, who attended this year's combine as a throwing quarterback. "Ultimately, if you go through and do it the right way, the pressure doesn't really get to you. You focus on the right things."

Pressure comes in crucial moments during games, and teams want players who can handle it.

"Quarterbacks, you'd like to watch them: What are they doing on third down? What are they doing in two-minute drills?"  Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "What is a receiver doing when he's matched up against a great cornerback? What's a great defender doing? What's a pass-rusher doing when you need a sack? ... That's why a lot of times you like to see a live game and watch the player's emotions, watch them on the sidelines and watch what happens if he gets a penalty. If a coach is getting on him, how does he handle it? I think all that stuff comes together, and we try to put all that information together to figure out if that guy can handle the game emotionally."

Colbert doesn't think the combine offers a solid window into a player's pressure-managing abilities. To him, it's too sterile an environment.

Not everybody agrees.

Three steps to handling pressure

Michael Gervais is a sports psychologist who helps train athletes for the combine, and, to him, the ability to dissolve pressure can translate to all kinds of situations.

"The preparation for the combine involves technical skills; it involves physical readiness and preparation and psychological skills to be able to thrive in a very intense environment," said Gervais, who has counted the Seahawks and Olympians among his clients. "Some of the foundations of people who are able to excel in intense moments are their ability to generate confidence, ability to be calm and to be here and now and refocus on the present moment. When they can do those three things, they tend to be able to adapt really well."

They are skills, Gervais says, not innate qualities. They can be learned.

Confidence, for example, comes from self-talk, or an internal monologue, and it can be altered. In his training, Gervais will ask a player what it feels like when he's at his best, and that way he can identify the athlete's ideal mindset.

"Step 1: Identify your ideal mindset; describe it," Gervais said. "Step 2: Increase your awareness of your own internal dialogue, and Step 3 is to be able to guide your self-talk."

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