This article was submitted by Sasa Cvetkovic of Basketball Phantom. Make sure to check out their website and follow @BasketPhantom on Twitter for some great basketball coaching and training content.
Like most sports, basketball is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. From amateur athletes to pros alike, every athlete knows you can easily throw someone off their game by simply "getting in their head."
Pressure from peers, coaches, parents, teammates and even competitors can become a crushing weight that keeps you from performing at your best. Athletics is a type of performance that requires some of the same skills that musicians, actors, dancers and other types of stage performers have to utilize to truly perform at their best.
Here are some great tips for calming your nerves to help you perform at your best:
Close Your Eyes & Breathe Deeply
It should be no surprise that what we call "nerves" or being nervous is a function of the nervous system. Oxygen has a direct impact on the nervous system. Therefore one of the best ways to calm jittery nerves is to hyper-oxygenate the brain. You can do this by taking a series of long, slow, deep breaths.
The best part of deep breathing exercises is that you can practice them on the bench right in the middle of a game or even take a single, deep, calming breath before making a free throw.
Closing your eyes will further assist calming your nerves as it limits your sensory input. Sensory input excites the nervous system, so the more sensory input you can eliminate, the more it assists in calming your nervous system.
If you have noise-canceling headphones, you can limit sensory input even more. You may have heard of flotation therapy and the impact is has on creating calmness. One of the ways it does this is by limiting sensory input.
Close your eyes and put on noise-cancelling headphones if you have them
Breath out and empty your lungs and diaphragm of oxygen
Breath in as much oxygen as you can to the count of 10
Hold breath for a count of 10
Slowly exhale to a count of 10, pushing out as much breath as you can.
Repeat three times or as many times as time allows
When people think of meditation, they often think of sitting alone in a quiet room. Meditation, however, is simply a developed ability to shut out what is going on around you.
There can be no doubt that your mental state will have a deep impact on your performance. Meditation has also been show to reduce stress, which is one of the many names for "nerves."
Practicing your jump shot again and again in practice will have a profound impact on your ability to perform a jump shot under pressure during a game. The same is true of meditation. While you don't need peace and quiet to meditate, the more you practice meditation off the court, the more effective it will be in the chaos, confusion, pressure, and stress of a game.
For added effectiveness, you can combine meditation with deep breathing.
Close your eyes and if you have them, don noise canceling headphones
Focus on a specific body part, such as your hands
Imagine your hands holding the ball. Feel the worn leather of the ball sliding through your fingertips
Feel yourself dribbling the ball, all alone on a court so silent you could hear a pin drop
Imagine your hands forming into position to create a perfect lay-up, jump shot or free throw
Imagine the ball spiraling perfectly through the air and into the hoop without disturbing a single centimeter of net on its way down
Continue imagining perfect scenarios for as long as time allows or until you feel calm, centered and at peace
Keep Up An Interior Running Dialogue
Gyms are generally full of hecklers and harassers. In some cases, it may even be your parents, coaches or friends that get most into your head and apply pressure to perform.
As Henry Ford famously said, "whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right." If you don't believe you can make that lay-up, jump shot or free throw, there's a good chance you will probably be right.
Studies have shown that positive self-talk can have a significant impact on sports performance. This makes the conversation going on in your head vitally important.
The truth is, during a game, your head will most likely be filled with a number of voices. These can include the voices of your coaches giving advice, your parents telling you what they think or even what competitors or detractors have said about you on social media.
You cannot control what others say, but you can control the dialogue in your head -what you actually hear during a game. Think of it like choosing your own music station.
Not only will the conversation in your head most likely determine your success or failure, but you can use it to drown out all the other voices vying for your attention.
Imagine you are a sports announcer announcing your every move
Announce each move you make as if it is a spectacular success
If you need to dribble the ball down the court, imagine the announcer praising the way you dribble down the court, if you need to make a free throw, imagine the announcer enthusiastically communicating the positive results to the listening audience
Keep up the running positive dialogue throughout the entirety of the game
Throughout the history of sports, both players and coaches alike have attempted to devise the best means of increasing and improving performance. Many have believed that getting players "hyped-up" or "amped up" before a big game is the best way to do this. New research is showing, however, that just the opposite may be true. Being able to stay calm and relaxed during a game may actually have the best impact on performance.