I’ve been there.
You feel like you’re ready. You’ve put in the work. Hours and hours at the gym putting shots up, training with your friends, doing drills.
Entire off-seasons put into a specific skill and then bam. It fails to translate to the games.
You fail to translate to the games. Somehow when it’s go time, you start to feel the nerves. Everything feels more vibrant, alive. Every movement you make is slowed in time, and every decision possible races through your mind, making you doubt yourself on a second to second basis.
It happens at all levels. You see it in the NBA when players just seem to stagnate despite claiming they work on X,Y, or Z. (hey Dion, lookin at you bud).
So what can you do about it? How do you become the guy (girl) that is at his BEST in games, the Timmy T of basketball? Let’s look at a few things you can do to up your performance.
1. Visualize. Visualize and visualize some more. You ideally want every moment and experience that you’re going to have in a game to feel like you’ve had it tons of times. When you step on the court, you’ve pictured it a dozen times already. When that ball’s going for tip-off, you’ve focused on the feelings of nervousness that you may have.
You’ve felt the way the ball feels when your hands are hyperactive and yet somehow unresponsive.
You’ve pictured your first layup with the defense on your back. You’ve pictured that first pass before you put up a shot.
By doing this you will lose a degree of that nervousness or urgency that you feel in games that is probably a factor in your “shaq-at-the-free-throw” type of game.
Interestingly enough, you don’t want to feel completely disengaged with the experience, as some arousal is good, so if you get to the game and you are so disconnected that you don’t even feel like you care about basketball, start getting pumped and being loud with your teammates like you see pro players do at the start of every NBA game.
2. Focus and trust. A big factor in the struggle-in-games syndrome is an over-thinking of every action you take and a one mind track on results.
Am I having a bad game? Am I having a bad game? Where’s my mom? What does my mom think? Oh crap what does my girl think? My teammates all hate me. Kyrie hates me (my worst nightmare.)
That good neighbor guy who says he’s always there isn’t there anymore, that’s how bad I am for this one mistake.
And that’s the issue. It’s one mistake. By over-thinking every missed shot, every mistake, you guarantee that you’ll make more mistakes, and miss more shots. Moreover, you’ll be disengaged in the game and not focus as much on things like defense and bringing up the energy of your team. Good going, negative nancy.
Instead, focus and trust. You know you’ve put in the work. You know that. You’ve seen your shot swish in practice tons of times and you’ve seen yourself play better than your competition plays in games.
So trust your body. It’s not the time to analyze anymore. It’s time to play. Just trust your body and focus only on making the right basketball decisions.
It sounds counter-intuitive: See the forest, not the trees. If you keep making the right decisions and not beating yourself up for the result, eventually that result is going to catch up.
So lose the pressure and relax.
3. Practice better. If you’re on an actual team doing scrimmages and such this is less likely to apply, but it’s still important for anyone doing training on their own or playing for fun. You need to simulate what goes on in games in practice.
You’ve probably heard this before, and if so it’s because it’s true. You need to play at “game speed.” In games you get tired; everything feels faster. One second you’re coming around a screen, the ball gets thrown at you, you realize you’re open and shoot before the window closes.
There’s no space for “let’s take a break, grab a soda, and listen to the Weeknd” here. Take the same shots in practice that you would in games, at the same speed, in the same condition (tired as hell).
For a last little quick tip, have an idea of what you want your performance to be. The feeling that you want to have. You know when you make that and one and you feel like you’re on top of the world? Something like that.
Focus on that image and block everything else out.