Being able to play under pressure with crowds watching and cheering you on is a struggle for many athletes, however it’s important that you don’t let fear overcome you and impact your performance. Developing mental toughness and confidence, and believing you can do it are the keys to not succumbing to the pressure of a big game. It’s important to put any mistakes you’ve made behind you and focus on the now to ensure that you can maintain a positive attitude and play with confidence.
To help you play to your true potential, here are a few mental skills you can utilize to ensure you don’t let the pressure of the game impact your performance:
1. Awareness – This does not just relate to what’s going on around you, but rather focusing on your body and mind awareness. Be aware of the signals your body is telling you before a big game – are your palms sweaty or clammy? Or do you get butterflies or an upset stomach? When you become aware of these signs, it’s important to take control of your situation by taking a few deep breathes, and calm down so you can focus on the game ahead. Taking control of your mind state will allow you to focus your energy and attention on your performance.
2. Breathing – Focusing on your breathing will help you take control of your situation and your mind state. Sports psychologist Seth Quealy says there are ‘two types of breathing – the first the release breath: Inhale deeply and let it out. This helps your body take in more oxygen and relieve some tension. The second breath is the trust breath: This is more calm and gentle, and will help you feel more in control.’
3. Positive Self-Talk – Keeping your thoughts positive and confident during exercise has been scientifically proven to improve motor skills, reaction time and enhance your physical performance. Take control of your mind state, rather than thinking you can’t, or losing hope when you miss a shot, believe in your abilities and what you CAN do. Practice positive self-talk when you’re next on the court, and see how much power your mind has over your performance!
4. Preparation – Preparation before a game is essential! Don’t think you can rely on natural talent to deliver a star performance on the court. To be a great basketball player, it takes hard work and long hours, practicing not just during training, but also in your own time to perfect your skills. If you struggle to play under pressure, ask your coach about practicing some pressure situation drills in the lead-up to a game to help build your confidence.
5. Attitude – Having a positive attitude is one of the most fundamental attributes for every basketball player, not matter what level you play at! Even the world’s greatest basketball players make mistakes, and miss opportunities during a game, but it’s all about shaking it off and not letting it affect the rest of your game. Whatever attitude you bring onto the court will determine how well you will perform!
If you feel like you can’t perform under pressure, remember you’re certainly not alone! Focus on changing your mentality before you go on the court, talk to your coach, manager or even another teammate so they can help you stay focused in your game and develop the confidence to play to the best of your ability. In the words of Kobe Bryant; “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – are all an opportunity for me to rise.”