5 Tricks Pro NBA Players Use To Calm Their Nerves
Do you ever struggle with nerves before a big game?
Composing yourself before a deciding finals series match, or even just the season opener, can prove challenging. As athletes, we all feel anxious before big games to a certain extent. If we allow it to affect us, it can really harm our ability to play to our best.
But imagine you were playing a game in an NBA finals series – how much more stressed would you be?
Obviously, in professional basketball, the stakes are much higher, and nerves can be a real issue. This is why the pros have ways of dealing with this problem, and now, we’re going to share them with you.
1. Accept your nervousness
The first step in responding to nervousness is actually to recognize it as a problem, rather than trying to block it out.
If you give in to the natural fight or flight response mechanism, you’ll be much more likely to choke in-game and then get angry at yourself, and will find it almost impossible to use any of the stress mitigation strategies outlined below.
This kicks off a vicious circle, where you get nervous about being anxious, and you end up torturing yourself over every little mistake.
12-time NBA all-star Bill Russell was so nervous before big games that he would often throw up. However, he was still able to perform – simply by coming to accept his nervousness and allowing himself to find ways of mitigating it.
2. Embrace the opportunity
Optimistic thinking doesn’t work for some people, especially if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
However, for the best NBA players, it can be a useful way of reframing your perspective of difficult situations.
Nervousness signals that the stakes are high – normally you’re about to play a crucial game, or a match that could have a big impact on the direction of your career.
While there is obviously going to be downside to screwing up, nervousness also signals a chance to show what you’ve got.
If you can reframe the situation as one of opportunity, and not of potential loss, then you’ll be in a fantastic position to calm your nerves.
3. Great preparation
The methods we’ve discussed so far allow you to mitigate nervousness once it occurs. But what if you could stop yourself from feeling stressed in the first place?
If you know you’ve done everything you possibly can to prepare for the game, it’s much harder to begin worrying about the potential outcome.
You ideally want to be in a position where there is nothing else you could have done in order to perform better on the day – from that point on, the result is down 100% to the level of effort you put in.
Therefore, if you put the work in on gameday, you’ll perform to the best of your ability.
There are two challenges with this technique. Firstly, you need to put the training in ahead of time – including individual practice and drills – not just team exercises. This is a real grind, and it’s what separates the best from the rest.
Secondly, it requires that you’re actually able to convince yourself of the logic behind this theory. Only once you actually believe that game-day performance is determined by effort, will you be able to use it properly.
4. Managing your breathing
When nervous, we limit the amount of breathing we do, and normally take much shallower breaths. As a result, your brain doesn’t have enough oxygen, and you struggle to think through your game plan.
You might have noticed this when doing public speaking – you feel like your mind is blanking, despite reading your notes just moments earlier.
This is why nervousness often seems to fade a little once you actually get onto the court. Physical activity forces you to take deep breaths, causing the oxygen to come back.
Apart from taking a few deep breaths every so often in the lead-up to big games, you can also use this technique to eliminate any in-game stress you may experience. Breathing allows you to bring your mind back to the present moment, rather than worrying about how you’re performing, or what you’re going to do in the rest of the game.
This one might seem a little far fetched.
But it’s true – some pro athletes, including NBA players, use meditation to calm their performance-related anxiety.
Part of this is about regulating breathing, and allowing yourself to get a steady, stable supply of oxygen.
However, meditation also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. While it might not tackle nervousness directly, it gives you the chance to relax and think about nothing for a while, which has been shown to reduce pre-match jitters.
Plus, meditation can also help to fight depression, which has emerged as a major (but hidden) issue for athletes in professional sports in recent years, including in the NBA.
In fact, veteran point guard Ricky Rubio has spoken about how meditation has helped him through mental health problems in the past few years. He says it allowed him not only to get in the right mindset pre-game, but also to re-focus his priorities in the context of his broader career.