Players, have you ever had something like this happen to you? When I was a junior in high school our basketball team made the playoffs for the first time in several seasons.
As a result the basketball program, the school and the entire community was excited beyond belief, not just because we made the playoffs but because we actually had the chance to win and advance.
This seemed like it was a once in a decade opportunity and we all wanted to make the very most of it.
Everywhere I went people I didn't even know reminded me how important the game was and what it would mean to win it. At school the upcoming game was the only thing anyone talked about.
With each and every conversation I became more and more hyped to play and by the time the game actually started I was ready to jump out of my skin!
While getting dressed in the lock room I realized that most of my teammates were experiencing the same type of emotions. There was more meaningless chatter than usual and guys were pacing aimlessly around the room.
By the time I walked onto the court my entire neck, shoulders, and arms were covered in a dark red, nervous rash and the officials almost didn't let me play because they thought I might have the measles.
My teammates and I played well that night but certainly nowhere near great and we lost a game that we probably should have won. In fact if we played that same team in a different setting under different circumstances we would have won nine out of ten times.
However, during that particular game, while feeling so much nervousness and anxiety we let our emotions get the best of us. Years have passed since then but my high school teammates and I all wish we could back and have a "do over."
I wish I knew then what I know now. If you happen to get really nervous before or during big games try using a simple, but effective relaxation technique called "centering."
Centering has been around for thousands for years and is a staple of most Japanese martial arts. Its purpose is to not only help you relax but to help you focus on the present and on the things you can control (like the game itself) and off the things you can't control (like everyone else's expectations).
Before the game:
Sit in a quiet, peaceful place and take in a long, deep breath until your entire diaphragm (or stomach) is full of air. Then exhale slowly through your mouth and focus on nothing except your breathing.
On your next breath begin to imagine all your nervousness and anxiety leaving your body as you exhale. You can even picture yourself breathing fire or creating a huge green cloud of nervousness as you breathe out.
After doing this a few times to rid yourself of your nervousness, start to focus on positive thoughts as you exhale. Picture yourself handling the ball under pressure, making a perfect pass, and hitting an open jump shot.
You can even visualize being a lock down defender or making the game winning free throw and being mobbed by your teammates. Whatever it is, make your mental pictures as real as possible.
During the game:
Obviously you don't have time to go through this whole process during the game if you start to feel a little anxious. Instead, during a break in the action (free throw, time out, etc.) shake your arms, shoulders, and neck to help release any physical tension and take one deep breath.
Exhale as slowly as the situation allows and focus on the words "Next play." You may have to repeat this sequence several different times during a really big game but it will help you relax and keep your mind on the things that you can control.
You work too hard on your game to let your skills be possibly affected by nerves and anxiety. Try centering before practices and games and see if your performance doesn't improve almost immediately.