The first time I played basketball was with my elementary school team.
When we were up against tougher teams or when there was an important championship match coming up, it seemed like everyone would get nervous and anxious.
The feeling of getting butterflies is not uncommon for most people who play sports — especially if they are competing against other athletes.
But what’s interesting about this phenomenon is that those feelings don’t necessarily have anything to do with how well you’re playing.
In fact, some studies show that being nervous doesn’t make us more likely to score less goals, but actually makes us worse at our sport.
So why does it happen?
There are many theories out there as to why someone might feel nervous in public speaking situations, although none seem plausible enough to explain why so many people get anxious over something relatively inconsequential such as a casual sporting event.
But there are several strategies that can help people calm their nerves and prepare for stressful events.
Some ideas talked about below come straight from research done by psychologists and experts in athletics, medicine and neuroscience.
- 1. Listen to your favorite music before the game
- 2. Meditate and take slow deep breaths
- 3. Practice basketball on your own beforehand
- 4. Think positively and visualize good performance
How to stop getting nervous before a basketball game
Here are four tips that anyone can use to keep themselves relaxed and ready for whatever comes down the road that day.
1. Listen to your favorite music before the game
As humans, it’s our nature to seek positive reinforcement.
We want rewards for doing right, and punishments for wrong-doing.
When faced with a situation where performance is involved, we tend to start looking outside ourselves instead of inside. That means our emotions become driven by reward rather than self-control.
This explains why we often find ourselves unable to control our impulses when presented with a tempting opportunity.
To stop yourself from those feelings of edginess, try focusing on your internal motivations whenever possible.
In other words, attempt to use intrinsic motivators and reward yourself regularly without turning to negative reinforcements.
For example, if you love listening to your favorite songs, then listen to those songs before a big tournament or practice session, as well as after.
Music plays a huge role in our lives, whether it’s calming background noise or inspiring tunes blasting through ear buds.
Researchers believe that exposure to certain types of sounds can influence brain activity and mood.
Music can boost the brain’s production of dopamine, a hormone that assists with relieving feelings of anxiety and depression.
Studies also suggest that exposing yourself to music might improve athletic performance by elevating work capacity and delaying fatigue, which happens via increased muscle strength and more blood flow to muscles respectively.
You should probably also consider the type of music you listen to if nerves have been getting the best of you.
Perhaps, consider choosing soothing instrumental tracks or relaxing meditation audio recordings instead of the heavy beat thumping that’s associated with music of other genres like rap or dance music.
2. Meditate and take slow deep breaths
One of the easiest methods to reduce tension and relax is breathing exercises.
Research conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that deep diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nerve pathway, which slows down your heart rate and reduces adrenaline secretion.
A relaxed breathing pattern causes the nervous system to calm down, and deep breathing techniques also activate alpha waves in the left temporal region of the brain, promoting relaxation and lowering alertness levels.
Meditation is similar to deep breathing in the sense that it helps train concentration, encourages mindfulness and promotes inner peace.
A variety of meditations exist depending on religious beliefs, spiritual practices and preferred style. Most require sitting upright with legs crossed and hands resting comfortably on lap.
Once comfortable, begin following along with guided meditation videos online or downloading apps designed specifically to aid in meditation.
Many of these programs guide users step-by-step through various exercises, including deep breathing and visualization.
Although it takes dedication and persistence to master this art, once learned, the benefits far outweigh short bursts of panic attacks and racing thoughts.
3. Practice basketball on your own beforehand
Since our brains respond best to repetition, learning new material repeatedly prepares the body for future challenges.
Repeatedly running sprint drills or shooting free throws until failure gives your body a chance to develop muscle memory and learn coordination.
Practicing alone allows you to concentrate solely on improving your form and mechanics, giving your mind a rest and allowing you to focus inward.
It’s also great for honing quickness and agility.
Remember to warm up properly, though, since tight hamstrings and ligaments can lead to injury.
4. Think positively and visualize good performance
Positive thinking is believed to affect our physiology and behavior in ways similar to exercise.
Positive affirmations (i.e. “I am awesome!”) repeated daily can boost confidence and motivate individuals towards success.
Visualizing yourself winning can be equally effective in preparing for upcoming basketball competitions.
Athletes have long known the value of visualization, but recent evidence indicates that visualizations based on specific outcomes (e.g., scoring baskets in a basketball game) work as effectively as generalized ones (i.e., imagining overall victory).
Use images and words to stimulate the areas of the brain associated with imagery processing, such as the hippocampus and amygdala.
With consistent practice, you can strengthen the connections between neurons in the right hemisphere of your brain and create pathways that link sensory information (sight, sound etc.) to motor output (physical movement).
This process is known as implicit or unconscious priming, whereby automatic processes are triggered without conscious awareness.
Eventually, you’ll be able to envision yourself completing difficult tasks automatically, leaving room for stronger physiological reactions.
For now, we’ll leave you with a very informative piece of video footage that sort of summarizes the aforementioned points and adds a bit of supplementary commentary on the techniques you can use to overcome your fear that arises before playing:
Reasons why you get nervous before basketball games
Above were four easy steps to follow to help reduce anxiety before a basketball game.
Those same principles apply to many other aspects of life, including presentations, job interviews, tests, meetings, and social occasions.
Using those tools consistently throughout each day builds resilience and equips you with powerful coping mechanisms that allow you to handle tough moments in stride.
Anyway, with that covered, let’s now cover some reasons why players tend to get tense prior to basketball games commencing.
Pressure from people around you
The society usually expects a lot from people.
As a player, the pressure to perform on the basketball court can sometimes be too difficult to overcome.
Which is why sometimes you see athletes having complete mental breakdowns before high-stakes games even commence!
Because people tend to place a lot of importance on the recognition they receive from their peers in the event of successful performance, they tend to suffer from the mountain of expectation that comes from other people with regard to how well they play.
The end result is nervousness before matches start, which isn’t good as it can impact the athlete’s ability to compete in the first place.
Sometimes we tend to over-analyze certain situations.
It could be as simple as worrying whether the opponent is better than my team or even having the fear that a serious injury would be picked up during play.
And because overthinking is usually associated with negative thoughts, a cloud of doubt can form over a player’s head, as they start to believe they don’t have what it takes to perform at their best.
Lack of practice and preparation
You’ve probably experienced that one moment where you forgot to read for an important test or end of term paper.
Entering the examination room with sweaty palms, you wonder whether you’ll manage to pass with flying colors.
A similar sort of thing happens to basketball players when they haven’t prepared themselves adequately through fitness conditioning and training drills.
The sport of basketball is by no means easy to play.
Even as a casual player you’ve got to have sufficient mastery of the basics in order to play at a decent level.
So, a lack of practice and preparation for an anticipated fixture – which involves much higher levels of skill in and of itself – can cause nervousness to creep in here and subsequently lead to a poor performance.
If you follow through with the tips outlined in this article, then you shouldn’t really have anything to worry about!
Performance anxiety is part of a number of sports, so the fact that you sometimes feel fearful that you’ll not succeed is a normal thing to go through.
The key thing is to come out of it on top, and you can only do that through implementing strategies to deal with pre-game nervousness.
You’ve got to get yourself into the attitude that you’ll do whatever is needed in order to improve, as drastic as that may sound.
This is why you see basketballers chewing gum for example, because for some players the act of doing so helps improve their focus on the court.
If something as small and as simple as a piece of chewing gum can work for your anxiety, then you don’t have any excuse to not perform at your best.