About the Under Pressure Documentary

Under Pressure is the working title of a documentary currently being filmed, which looks at stress and coping in elite South African sport.

It is being funded by the Macsteel Maestros programme at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA). I have the privilege of having been invited to help put this project together. 

The initial idea for the documentary came from a discussion between Gill Taylor (of Macsteel Maestros) and represesentatives of the South African Cricketers Association (SACA), who wanted to develop a series of short video clips to be used in training the next generation of South African athletes. Specifically, they were to form part of a training seminar that helps the young sportsmen and women develop the coping skills necessary to surviving and succeeding in the pressured world of elite sport. 

Since the initial discussion however, it has involved into more than just a training tool – it now looks to becoming a documentary in its own right. The project also now enjoys the support of the SA Rugby Players Association, and of course the many individual athletes who are being interviewed - who are generously giving not just of their time, but also of their openness and honesty.

There is a common assumption that in order to succeed in sport at the highest level, you must be tough and resilient. There is some truth to this, but toughness is also specific to the task at hand. Even the toughest of the tough struggle at times under the weight of expectation, or even just with life’s normal ups and downs.

This subject is however taboo. These sporting icons are not supposed to struggle. The athletes themselves find it hard to ask for help because they and others take it as a sign of weakness. The irony is this - learning to cope effectively with pressure is important not just for the well-being of the person ‘behind’ the athlete, but also for the actual (sports) performance of the athlete concerned.

The response from the athletes, coaches, and support staff we have spoken to so far has been over-whelming. It is indicative of the fact that there is a problem – one that is neither being acknowledged nor dealt with openly enough. Elite athletes experience some unique and intense pressures, but don’t always have the ability to cope effectively with them. 

We hope as a result of the Under Pressure documentary, that more young sportsmen and women will recognize that struggling at times is normal, and that acknowledging this is the first step towards more effective coping, greater personal fulfillment, and ultimately better, more consistent performances.

We are currently busy with filming the interviews. The launch date will be announced in the next few weeks.

Clinton Gahwiler,  11 October 2014