Tommy Smith has played in multiple continents, made hundreds of professional appearances, and earned 50 caps for the New Zealand national team. In this article, Smith, no stranger to the demands of the biggest stages, discusses the challenges of pressure, coping with expectation, and his experiences playing at the World Cup and Olympic Games.

In This Article

Coping with Pressure

Playing professional football can carry a lot of pressure — from fans, coaches, and even players’ own personal standards. But learning how to cope with these demands, especially when performance outcomes don’t match expectations, is key to succeeding in the game.

“It takes practice,” explains Smith. “I’ve developed methods of positive self-talk, to remind myself of my strengths in the last few minutes before a game. If you let negative thoughts creep in, that’s when you can become unstuck, so it’s all about maintaining a positive mindset.

“You may feel the need to play well for other people, but it’s important to motivate yourself intrinsically.”

Experiencing a World Cup

One advantage of coping with pressure is being able to enjoy and thrive in the biggest moments. For Smith, one such occasion was New Zealand’s campaign at the 2010 World Cup. “It was brilliant to be a part of it,” he says. “I was just 20 years old and nothing phased me. And to be undefeated in all three of our games was fantastic.

“In terms of preparation, there was a huge emphasis on creating camaraderie and togetherness within the group — and I think that was reflected in our performances. Everyone pulled in the same direction.

“I think that’s often what counts for a successful team; you can have the best individuals, but, if you’re not working for each other, you won’t have success on the pitch.

“Within that New Zealand squad, there was a real sense that we were all in it together. We had that mentality in abundance.”

Playing Against the Best

Smith experienced another incredible challenge two years later, at the 2012 Olympic Games. “I couldn’t be prouder,” he says. “My footballing journey began in New Zealand, so representing the All Whites at the Olympics was very special for me.”

The Olympic campaign was made even more memorable by the calibre of opposition, with matches against Brazil and Egypt pitting Smith against players such as Neymar, Mo Salah, and Thiago Silva. “We came up against some incredible opponents,” he recalls, “Those are special memories, facing players I’d previously only watched on television — who I never would have dreamt of playing against.”

Smith’s mentality is a reminder that, at all levels of participation, a primary objective should always be to enjoy playing the game. In fact, his ability to handle pressure, stay positive, and have fun may be the key to his success on the pitch. 

“I had some special moments,” he concludes. “I loved the challenge. And I’ll cherish it forever.”

Image Source: Photo by Nathan Rogers on Unsplash

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