8 Strategies To Calm Down Before Your Big Game

There are the pregame jitters. You have butterflies in your stomach. Maybe you are a jumble of nerves and you feel like you’re going to throw up.  

Is this you before your basketball games?

Do you play tentatively because you are afraid to make uncharacteristic mistakes? Do you lack confidence? By the time you settle in, many minutes have ticked off the clock. This nervousness can wreak havoc on your game.

Well not anymore! 

Below are eight PROVEN strategies to help calm your nerves before your next contest. Once you make these steps part of your game-day routine, you will confidently step on the court ready to dominate. 

Step #1- Be Prepared

The reason most people feel nervous before a game is because they are not prepared. They don’t feel ready. 

How do I prepare myself?

Work hard during practice. Push yourself in practice, so you know there was nothing more you could do to be ready for your opponent. When you arrive at your game, you should be able to say, “I did everything I could to be ready.”

You should also identify the parts of your game that make you nervous and work on them. 

Weakness examples

  • Make 50 extra free throws after every practice for two weeks. 
  • Dribble with your weak hand up and down the court 20 times for a week.
  • Practice shooting a jumper after coming off a ball screen until you make a high percentage.  

The more you work on the weaker parts of your game, the more confidence you will have to perform at a high level. 

This step is the most important. You can’t lie to yourself. You will know if you put the work in. If you haven’t, you will be nervous and not confident. When you completely believe you are ready, you will eliminate your nerves. 

Step #2 – Be Early

We can become a little frantic if we are running behind schedule, so have everything ready. You don’t want to be rushed. Pack your bag the night before, so it is ready to go. 

You should arrive early at the gym, so you can get comfortable in your surroundings. Notice anything that could be a distraction during the game. Take in the atmosphere. 

Give yourself extra time to warm up. Simulate game-like situations during pregame, so you will be prepared for them when they actually occur in the game. Make it so you will not be surprised by anything that could happen in the game. 

Step #3 – Visualize and Guided Meditation

Take time before your game to close your eyes and visualize yourself being successful during the game. Leave no aspects of the game out of your visualization. Seeing yourself being successful can actually lead you to perform better. 

Find a spot where you can be comfortable. Remove all distractions. Once again, you can ask your coach if the team can do this. 

Tips for visualization

  • Clear your mind off all thoughts. 
  • Focus on movements you will make during the game. 
  • Visualize short, quick snapshots
  • Visualize from beginning to end
  • Be very detailed in what you see
  • Make sure you visualize things done correctly
  • Use complete silence or listen to music that helps you visualize. 

Examples of what to visualize

  • Feeling the ball leave your hand as you shoot your free throw
  • Using a double move to perfection
  • Hitting jump shots from all around the court
  • Playing aggressive defense and shutting down your opponent
  • Skying high for a rebound and snatching it with two hands

When you visualize with your eyes as the camera lens, you can develop muscle memory. This is an added bonus! Not only does it help you relieve stress, it makes you a better player. 

Your visualization time should be 60 seconds. Only 60 seconds! Those 60 seconds can have a tremendous impact on the entirety of your game. You will feel so good about yourself after seeing yourself be successful the nerves will melt away. 

Guided Meditation

Many counselors use guided meditation. This again clears your mind of the many thoughts that are racing through it. You focus on calming experiences and happy places. It calms you down by slowing your heart rate. 

Tips for Guided Meditation

  • Sit in either silence or have soothing music playing.
  • Listen to someone describe a peaceful scene and visualize it.
    • Beach, mountain stream, a meadow, a park, etc…
  • If you do not have someone, find a video on YouTube that you can use. 
  • As you listen to the voice describing the scenes, focus on the pictures in your mind and your breathing. 
  • Spend 2 minutes visualizing the peaceful scene. 

Using guided meditation is a proven strategy to reduce anxiety and stress. You will be extremely calm and relaxed. Another possible positive is you could feel happy. If you visualized something that was a happy memory from the past, your body may release endorphins which also combats anxiety and stress. 

Step #4 – Tactical Breathing

When we get nervous, our heart rate skyrockets. When our heart beats fast, we tend to move too quickly. The best way to calm yourself is to breathe deeply. 

This is not just taking a deep breath. A deep breath can be done as quickly as 4 seconds. When you breathe deeply, it should last between 10-15 seconds. 

The goal is to relax your heart rate by breathing so deeply the lowest part of the lungs get a full share of oxygenated air. If the lungs don’t get fully filled with air,  that can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Who deals with pressure situations the most? The military and first responders!

Why not use some of their strategies when dealing with the most stressful situations?

Tactical Breathing

  • Get into a comfortable position in a quiet setting. 
  • Close your eyes and mind off to any distractions. 
  • Just focus on your breathing and visualize each number as you count. 
    • Breathe in for 4 seconds. Count 1, 2, 3, 4.
    • Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Count 1, 2, 3, 4. 
    • Exhale for 4 seconds. Count 1, 2, 3, 4. 
    • Repeat this sequence 3 to 5 times. 
  • You will achieve your goal of slowing down your heart rate, and you will feel relaxed. 

Box Breathing

  • This is very much like tactical breathing with a twist. 
  • Sit in a chair with both feet on the floor. 
  • Find a quiet spot without distractions. 
  • Close your eyes and focus on a box. 
  • Slowing inhale through your nose for a count of 4. 
    • Instead of counting the numbers, visualize a dot going along the bottom side of a square. 
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4. 
    • Now the dot should progress up the right side of the square. 
  • Slowly exhale out your mouth for a count of 4.
    • The dot crosses over along the top of the square. 
  • Take one shorter breath as your dot finishes the outline of the square. 
  • Repeat this process 3 to 5 times. 

It is best to use deep breathing in a quiet spot before the game. Don’t be afraid to ask your coach if the team can do it together. Many coaches use this effective strategy to keep their players calm before the big game. 

After a good session of deep breathing, you will step on the court with a controlled heart rate that is not racing. You will be calm and ready for action. 

Step #5 – Have a Mantra

A lot of people preach the power of having a growth mindset. Having a personal mantra is a big part of positive thinking. Great athletes have mantras that help them stay positive and calm while they are grinding. 

What is a mantra?

A mantra is a saying you frequently repeat to yourself. It could be a saying of validation. It could be a reminder of technique. It could be a phrase of affirmation. 

Whatever mantra you adopt, it has to be powerful. You have to fully believe it. It has to have meaning to you. It is a reminder of the power and ability you contain inside of you. 

Mantra Examples:

  • “I have worked hard, and I am ready.”
  • “I know I can do this.”
  • “Rise Up!”
  • “It’s my time now.”
  • “I am in control, and I won’t let anyone stop me.”

When you are nervous your mind becomes busy with many different thoughts racing through it. The repetitiveness of the mantra is so effective because it slows down our thoughts. It gives our mind something to focus on. Instead of thinking of all the things you need to do, you will only have that phrase repeating in your mind. 

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. Repeating your manta has a calming effect. 

Remember, your mantra has to be believable. If you have not put in the work, your mantra of knowing you can do it wouldn’t be believable. You have to put in the work to back up your mantra. 

The great thing about mantras is you can combine it with your deep breathing techniques. As you breathe in, focus on repeating your mantra. This phenomenal combination will soothe those nerves immediately. 

Step #6 – Set a Goal

Too many athletes think they have to do everything to be successful during a game. 

That is nonsense! That is a perfect way to become overwhelmed and become nervous. 

Pick a goal you want to focus on for the game. You can pick a couple, but you don’t want to pick too many. As you achieve your goal, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. After you achieve each goal, you will feel more relaxed. 

Tips for Making Goals

  • Be specific
    • I will set 5 screens during the first quarter. 
    • I will get 2 offensive rebounds in the first half. 
  • Make it measurable
    • Use numbers.
      • I will not foul out of the game. 
      • I will score a certain number of points. 
  • Be timely (set a goal for only a quarter)
  • Make it reasonable and attainable
    • Is it something you have accomplished before?
    • Are you building on a previous goal?

If you set unrealistic goals, you are setting yourself up for more pressure. You don’t want that! You want to set goals that will push you to be successful but aren’t going to stress you out. 

Step #7 – Use Music

Music makes the world go round. It can help you relax, become motivated, visualize, and focus. It can also ease nerves before a game. 

Music affects your emotional state. A slower tempo song can relax your muscles and help release the stress you are feeling. Music is extremely effective for stress management. Music can help slow your heart rate and lower levels of the cortisol stress hormone.

Whether it is some instrumental music that calms you or an upbeat song that helps you focus and concentrate, music can help any anxiety you may be feeling before the game. What’s most important is to find music that speaks to you. There is no one genre that works for everyone. It has to move you. 

Music Examples:

  • Music that makes you happy and puts you in a good mood.
  • Music that has a driving beat that makes you excited. 
  • Music that is uplifting and inspires you by making you feel powerful. 
  • Music that has a good message that challenges you to be better.
  • Music that is relaxing and helps you focus on your goals. 

Remember, when you are happy your body can produce endorphins. Listening to music and singing along actually has a high chance of producing endorphins. Those endorphins have a calming effect on the body. So, the next time you are jamming to your music, sing along!

The great thing about music is it can serve many purposes. Say you can pick a song that has a really strong beat that motivates you. You can also use it when you visualize yourself being successful. Every time you hear the beat, you visualize yourself doing something well. 

Then before the game, replay the music in your head. The music can help you stay excited, relaxed, loose, and certainly NOT nervous. 

Step #8 – Be Grateful

Before the game, take a moment to be thankful for the opportunity you have. Many people may not have the opportunity you do playing a basketball game. Be thankful for that.  

There is a great saying that has been around for a while. “You can’t be stressed when you are blessed.” If you focus on all of the things you are grateful for, you won’t have time to think about the things that could cause you stress. 

What Can I be Thankful For?

  • Being able to play in a basketball game
  • Your teammates
  • Your coaches
  • Someone in the stands
  • The hard work you put in every day

It is a simple thing, and it doesn’t take but a few seconds. For those few seconds, your stress and nerves will be non-existent. It will put you in a better mood, and it may even make you work harder because you want to show people your appreciation. 

These seven steps are proven to help diminish the nerves you may feel before the game. Continually using these steps will raise your confidence level. They can even raise the level of your play to new levels. Stress level low and high-level play. It’s a win-win!

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