Basketball is Psychology XI
“Once we step on the court, it’s all business and it’s intense. There’s a fun to that for us.” -- Jay Wright
Nerves Start Neutral
Your perspective on playing in a high pressure situation is significant, because ‘nerves’ are not positive or negative until you decide what they are. The sensations you feel before a big game are neutral. Don’t try to suppress them, decide to view them in a positive light. Telling yourself something like, “I am excited” or “I love competing in this environment” shifts your mindset from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset. A threat mindset makes you feel nervous and anxious which will make your muscles tighten, while an opportunity mindset makes you feel relaxed but ready to go.
You should love to compete. View it as a great opportunity, not a burden. Competition makes you better. Iron sharpens iron.
Think about the most fun you’ve ever had playing basketball. Your whole team was probably competing really hard, and it was probably an important game.
Now think about the least amount of fun you’ve ever had in a game. Likely, it was a low-stakes game, so there was a lack of energy and a lot of going through the motions.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, what really fulfills us and brings us joy is competing with maximum effort,
especially under pressure.
When you leave practice or a game, knowing you gave it everything you had, you get a satisfying feeling. However, when you leave knowing you had more to give, there’s an unsatisfying feeling that follows you around. When the stakes are high, and you’re still able to give great effort, it’s even more satisfying.
High pressure games have the potential to be extremely fun and fulfilling, but it starts with your perspective.
This does not mean it’s going to be easy, expect challenges. It’s March, it’s going to be tough and you’re going to have to fight for every win. But if you go into the game with a scared mindset, you won’t perform well. You have to embrace the challenges.
Instead of thinking about everything that could go wrong, you have to be mentally disciplined enough to focus on what could go right.
Focus on your love of competing.
Focus on the countless hours you’ve spent preparing.
Focus on the reward.
Focus on how fun it is.
When you’re focused on having fun and your love of the game, you’re not thinking about the pressure. You’re playing free of pressure and distractions.
Arguably, no team has performed better under pressure the past few years than Villanova has. Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater to win the national championship will go down as one of the greatest shots of all time, but their attention to the mental approach is what made that shot possible.
Villanova breaks every huddle of every game by shouting “Attitude”, which is evidently what has allowed them to be successful.
Villanova has fused a positive attitude with an intense style of play, and to them- that is fun. Even in a high-stakes game where it’s normal to focus on being scared to mess up or miss a shot, Jay Wright wants his players to shoot fearlessly.
Coach Wright understands the great risks that come with playing under pressure. “We have a saying, ‘shoot ’em up and sleep in the streets.’ To be a great shooter, you have to be willing to keep shooting, even on a night when, if you don’t make them, no one’s going to let you come into their house. They’re going to make you sleep in the streets, you were so bad. If you’re going to be a great shooter, you can’t fear sleeping in the streets. We talk about that all the time.”
You get to choose what your focus is on. You can focus on the risk or the reward.
Kids shooting in the driveway aren’t dreaming about exhibition games. They’re not dreaming about November, December, January, or February. They’re dreaming about March— embrace it.
1. Decide to view your pre-game feelings as excitement.
2. Shoot ‘em and sleep in the streets. Don’t by paralyzed by the risks, be enticed by the rewards.
3. Focus on the great opportunity you have, how fun it is, and how much you love to compete.
Written by Julie Fournier
Founder and CEO of Basketball is Psychology
Stulberg, B., & Magness, S. (2017). PEAK PERFORMANCE: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NEW SCIENCE OF SUCCESS. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.
Wright, J., Sheridan, M., & Dagostino, M. (2017). Attitude develop a winning mindset on and off the court. New York: Ballantine Books.