Adidas set out to disarm the negative pressure in sports by working with elite and grassroots athletes to reveal the impact it can have on performance. Uncovering how pressure significantly impacts the next generation’s relationship with sport, affecting enjoyment and overall participation, Adidas used neuroscience to explore how the world’s best athletes manage it. 

Through research, Adidas discovered the extent to which pressure is experienced across all levels of sport. The main finding from the study was that grassroots athletes and their elite counterparts experience similarly intense levels of pressure in high-stakes moments, but elite athletes were up to 40 percent more effective at managing pressure during these moments. To help close the gap, Adidas worked with leading neuroscientists, Neuro11, to set out how and why negative pressure hinders play while guiding how athletes at all levels can help to disarm the feeling.

Bringing together a selection of Adidas elite athletes from football, basketball, golf, and grassroots players from the same sports, Adidas and Neuro11 captured and analyzed their cerebral readings during high-pressure moments. FIFA World Cup 2022 winner Emiliano Martínez, Ryder Cup 2023 champion Ludvig Åberg, eight-time WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogwumike, breakthrough golfing phenom Rose Zhang, and WSL star forward Stina Blackstenius all took part in the study to help athletes better understand pressure and how to overcome it.

Dr. Niklas Häusler, co-founder, Neuro11, said, “While pressure looks and feels different for everyone, there is a scientific sweet spot in the brain that all can reach—the optimal zone, commonly referred to as “being in the zone”; this is where the brain is physically relaxed but mentally focussed, leading to optimal movement and performance. When we work with athletes, we study their brain frequencies to establish how often and how deeply they enter this optimal zone during pressure moments, as well as what contributes to them falling into ‘too low’ or ‘too high’ zones for performance, all with the intention of teaching routines that they can implement. Building on this and supporting Adidas’ mission to help everyday athletes realize their potential, we have created practical guidance that helps enhance performance when it matters the most.”

Delving deeper into some of the most pressured moments in sport, Adidas and Neuro11 studied professional and amateur athletes during penalty shootouts, high-stakes putts, and must-make free throws. By measuring how their brains reacted and calculating how effectively and efficiently each athlete was able to reach the optimal zone, the findings demonstrate to what extent the elite athletes are better prepared to face pressure and show what steps grassroots athletes can take to help better disarm pressure.

Emiliano Martínez reportedly excelled under pressure during the penalty shootout testing. He was 90 percent more in the optimal zone during high-pressure moments in the penalties test. Martinez showcased a “world-class mental ability” to switch his focus from any surrounding distraction to concentrate solely on the penalty taker, making him three times more effective at harnessing pressure to get into the optimal zone than the grassroots goalkeeper. Full data report following Emiliano Martínez and Stina Blackstenius’ sessions with Adidas and Neuro11 is available here.

While undertaking the free-throw tests, Nneka Ogwumike reportedly proved the importance of having a set and consistent pre-shot routine. When executing this, she got 52 percent more in the optimal zone—40 percent more than the grassroots basketballer. The routine allowed her to shut out any external distractions and thoughts, to focus her mind, and work effectively with the pressure during the shot—the full data report following Nneka Ogwumike’s session with Adidas and Neuro11 is available here.

For the golf putting tests, results showed that putts that were nine meters or less created significantly more pressure on the putting green. During these moments, Ludvig Åberg and the grassroots golfer’s ability to get into the optimal zone was reportedly less, compared to putting situations further from the hole, with the grassroots golfer moving 42 percent more into the ‘too high’ brain zone. However, Ludvig got 71 percent more into the optimal zone for long-distance putts, whereas the grassroots golfer was less focused and moved 91 percent more into the ‘too high’ brain zone—full data report following Ludvig Åberg and Rose Zhang’s sessions with Adidas and Neuro11 is available here.

When talking about pressure in his game, Emiliano Martínez shared: “Penalty shootouts are one the most high-pressure moments of the game, but for me, I see it as an opportunity to channel that energy to my advantage. When standing on the goal line, I try to maintain a clear mindset and stay focused. I allow my intuition to play a role, paying close attention to what the shooter is doing—their run-up, their body shape—and use this to form my decision on my next movement. Following my session with Adidas and Neuro11, it was interesting to see data proving that when the pressure is on, I am more in the zone and perform better, reinforcing my own evaluation.”

Adidas is releasing a wide range of athlete stories, insights from experts and neuroscience-powered guidance materials designed to help athletes disarm pressure in sport at any level. Across a series of multi-sport how-to guides and a four-part fly-on-the-wall athlete series, it will share how to access the optimal zone through insider techniques. The guidance reveals the optimal area of a goal to strike a penalty, how to use time to regain focus before netting a free throw and the impact of dwell time on putting in golf. The science-backed insight helps enhance mental focus during some of the most pressured moments across sport.

Florian Alt, VP of global brand communications, Adidas, said, “Understanding the extent to which negative pressure affects performance underlines the importance of our mission to help athletes across the world overcome it—to fully unlock the joy sport brings. Ahead of a stellar year of sport, we’ve set out to inspire next-gen athletes to tackle pressure by giving them unique insight into how some of the world’s best athletes manage pressure. Using the latest neuroscience data and research, we have also released tools and techniques to help empower everyone to disarm pressure in sport. We hope this campaign enables athletes to get back to what they love about the game – by reminding them with our positive rallying cry—you got this.”

Over the course of the new global brand campaign, Adidas will continue to bring together a wide range of sporting icons to demonstrate how they handle pressure in some of the most high-stakes moments to inspire everyday athletes to do the same. Adidas’ message dedicated to the next generation of athletes is to believe they can overcome the pressure “to achieve their possible possibilities in sports.”

The episodic fly-on-the-wall style series were made available on Adidas’ Instagram and YouTube channels on February 8, with the how-to-guides for each sport available to download here and for preview on Adidas TikTok.

Image courtesy Adidas