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How to Get Calm Before a Big Game

ByQueen Ballers Club|@queenballers| January 5, 2023If you buy something from a link on our site, Queen Ballers Club may earn a commission.
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So you need a few ways to get your anxiety in check? Don’t worry, we got you! Today we’ll share some of the best ways to get calm before a big game, and reveal pro athletes’ secrets for staying calm under pressure.

For starters, don’t worry about what other athletes are thinking or how well they seem to be doing. It’s normal to be anxious before a big game. Furthermore, it’s common not to suspect that others are overcome or overwhelmed with anxiety. But it’s likely they’re experiencing the same level of anxiety or even more so, no matter how calm they appear.

For example, when WNBA Champion and 3X3 Olympic Gold Medalist Stefanie Dolson first arrived for college basketball practice at UConn, she was nervous. “…I’m usually scared, I’m always nervous. I think I have so much pressure I put on myself, I just want to be really good. So if I’m not, I freak out. So I was so scared, like petrified.” she said, reflecting on the experience.

So let’s jump into some simple tricks to relax your mind and calm your nerves ahead of games or even practices.

Discover helpful ways to calm down before a big game

Here are concrete steps you can take used by NBA and WNBA pros, from changing what you listen to, to getting a really strong feel for the ball and bolstering your confidence. Let’s get after it!

1. Listen to calming music (not hype music)

Research indicates that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat, causing alpha brainwaves. This alpha brainwave is what is present when we are relaxed and conscious. Researchers at Stanford University have said that “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.” They noted that music is something that almost anybody can access and makes it an easy stress reduction tool. Here’s a 60 bpm song list on Spotify if you need some inspiration.

2. Take deep breaths

The way you breathe impacts your whole body. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and helps to promote a state of calmness. Breathing techniques also help you feel connected to your body. Plus breathing exercises are easy to learn. You can do them whenever you want, and you don’t need any special equipment.

A stress-reducing marine breathing technique you can try is:

  1. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

3. Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness can help your body and your mind relax. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind. Awareness of breathing is one of the most fundamental techniques for moving into mindfulness. The easiest way to focus on awareness of the breath is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed and begin to focus on your in-breath and your out-breath.

Here’s a five-minute meditation to try. Take a few deep breaths from your diaphragm and release the tension in your body. Focus on a five-count breath:

  1. Slowly inhale from the belly
  2. Then into ribs
  3. Then into chest
  4. Up into crown of the head
  5. Then gently hold the breath for the fifth count

Reverse this process on the exhale for another count of five, exhaling from the crown, chest, ribs, belly, pausing on the last bit of breath out of the body, and then begin again.

4. Visualize yourself playing well

“I’m constantly amazed at the number of athletes I work with who are exceptionally skilled and highly talented, but who don’t play that way because they don’t see themselves that way. They don’t have a clear sense of purpose or understand that how they see themselves creates their reality.” said NBA mental performance coach George Mumford. If you tell yourself that you’re not good compared to others, or if you attribute your good fortune to luck alone, your self-concept probably needs reexamining. In short, you’ll see it when you believe it.

Imagery works to enhance performance by sharpening the mental blueprint and strengthening the muscle memory for the physical goal at hand. The brain does not always differentiate between real and vividly imagined experiences because the same systems in the brain are used for both types of experience.

Visualize positive performances and picture the ideal steps for achieving a successful result. Create a clear mental picture and a powerful physical feeling of what you want to accomplish. When you visualize, do it from the first-person point of view through your own eyes. Not from a bird’s eye view where you’re picturing everything from above. That way you’ll have achieved your basketball goal, as if it really were you.

Do this by including the:

  • Sights: What will your teammates look like? How about the other team? Where will you be standing? What’s your view of the basket? What’s the arena look like?
  • Sounds: How loud is the crowd cheering? What’s your captain shouting to you? What’s the coach saying? How does the ball sound as it goes in the net? Are shoes sliding on the ground?
  • Smells: Is there food in the gym? Are you sweating?
  • Tactile impression: How does the ball grip feel? How’s the floor connecting with your shoes? Is there sweat on your face?
  • Powerful emotions: How excited are you to be in the game? How much is the defense pressuring you?

In The Champions Mind, author Jim Afremow, shares that three key ingredients for successful imagery rehearsal are:

  1. Vividly see yourself performing successfully.
  2. Deeply feel yourself performing masterfully.
  3. Thoroughly enjoy seeing and feeling yourself winning.

If you need some help getting started, check out this guided visualization practice session.

5. Do your (consistent) warm up routine

Put a big focus on ball handling to warm up your feel during your pre-game routine. Create a routine you want to use every time. You’ll feel more confident, dribble better, and shoot better when your hands are well connected with the ball. A handling warm up we recommend is:

Stationary:

  • 20 low pounds left hand, then right hand
  • 20 cross pounds (side to side) left hand in front of you, then right hand
  • 20 cross pounds (front and back) left hand on your left side, then right hand
  • 20 in and outs each hand
  • 20 cross overs in front, then behind

Moving forward/backward to half court:

  • Float dribble series: in front (float dribbles forward), between the legs, behind
  • Skips series (skipping while dribbling forward): dribbling in front, between, behind
  • Low series: crossovers forward, backward
  • Tight and loose: alternating 3 tight fast low between the legs dribbles, 3 loose high slow between the legs dribbles
  • Freestyle: Any 3-move combo but must end on a spin move, before float, back into next move

Or you could try Golden State Warriors’ NBA champion Steph Curry’s pre-game dribbling routine:

Calm nerves before a basketball game

Tell those pre-game jitters goodbye! You’re equipped to keep your cool before your next high-stakes game. Up next, learn basketball leadership tips from pros or work on your weak hand with some fun drills.

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