Joy vs Pressure

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” -Laird Hamilton

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Nathan Chen was the overwhelming favorite to win gold but suffered a heartbreaking poor performance in the short program that sunk his chances. Afterward he admitted that he had been nervous, worried, and overwhelmed by the expectations. Basically, he had performed in fear with a sense of dread.

At the 2022 Winter Olympics, he was able to exorcise his demons by coming through with a world record and gold medal. This time he spoke not about fear but joy. 

“At the end of the day, you know, I’m doing this sport because I love it and not because I’m here because I have to win,” Chen said. “And, of course, that’s my goal as an athlete. I want to say, ‘Well, I want to have opportunities to win,’ but I really do it because I enjoy what I do. I think when you have that perspective, it really allows you to switch away from the narrative of being like, ‘Oh my God, this is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ I think continuing to have that perspective just generally makes me more at ease with what I do and allows me to do it.”


  • Chen changed his perspective from fear to joy. He started to focus on why he loved his sport and kept that at the forefront of his brain. 
  • Often athletes, especially when on a bigger stage than normal, will start to focus on having to perform in order to see results versus staying true to their love of their sport. 
  • Joy is the antidote to many of the struggle’s athletes face (i.e. burnout, frustration, fear, pressure, and self-doubt). Gratitude can be a key tool in staying focused on joy.

Moving Forward
Consider: Speak with your teammates and coaches about what joy they experience from their sports in order to gain perspective.

Implement: Journal about three times or recurring events that cause you the most pressure in your sport. Then, write about the joy your sport brings you to combat the feelings of pressure.

Expand: Start a daily gratitude practice- journaling, a gratitude walk, etc.

This story was taken from “Challenger Deep: Athletes Rising Above Adversity.” It is a collection of 30 stories of elite athletes and teams that have taken adversity and used it to rise above. Paperback and eBook are available on