Dealing With Pre-Game Nerves | Part Two

May 6, 2024

If you read our previous article on pre-game nerves, you know how they can affect young basketball players. In this follow-up post, we'll explore the science behind these nerves and offer strategies to help kids overcome them and perform their best on the court.

Why Do Players Experience Pre-Game Nerves?

Pre-game nerves are more than just a case of jitters before a big game; they're deeply rooted in our body's natural fight-or-flight response. When faced with a high-pressure situation like a basketball game, our bodies release adrenaline, preparing us to face the challenge head-on or flee. This surge of adrenaline can manifest in various ways, including those familiar butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, and racing thoughts that many athletes experience before hitting the court. 

A combination of factors triggers these nerves. The fear of failure looms, especially when there's pressure to perform well, whether from coaches, teammates, or even themselves. A lack of confidence can amplify these nerves; when athletes doubt their abilities or feel unsure of themselves, facing a challenging opponent or performing in front of a crowd can seem even more daunting. As a result, they may experience heightened nervousness leading up to the game. Understanding these underlying factors behind pre-game nerves can help you better support your young athlete in managing their nerves and performing at their best on the basketball court.

The Negative Effects of Pre-Game Nerves

Pre-game nerves can have a real effect on how young players perform on the court. Firstly, decision-making and reaction time can slow down when nerves are high, meaning the split-second choices which are vital during a game might not come as easily. The butterflies in their stomach can also shake their confidence. They might start doubting themselves, which makes it harder to go for those shots or passes with conviction. 

Tension from nerves can make their muscles feel tight, and shaky hands can make it challenging to handle the ball or shoot accurately. If you pick up that your child is battling with their pre-game nerves, there are a few strategies you can teach them to navigate those feelings and play the way they know they can. 

In our previous article, we suggested deep breathing exercises, visualization, listening to music, and getting in a light workout before a game to channel some of those nerves. Here are a few more ideas you can encourage your child to try:

Overcoming Pre-Game Nerves 

  1. Mental Preparation 

Pre-game nerves often come from our thoughts, so preparing mentally is really important to help manage them well. Teach your child to engage in positive self-talk to boost their confidence. Motivate them to replace any negative thoughts with positive ones, reminding them of their strengths and abilities. Having support from team members to remind each other of what they contribute to the team is also helpful in getting hyped for the game. 

  1. Physical Preparation Techniques

Getting physically ready is important for handling pre-game nerves because our bodies and minds work together closely. Alongside some light drills, your child can try progressive muscle relaxation. This involves them tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups in their body, which helps to ease physical tension and ultimately stress. This technique can help them feel much calmer before a game.

  1. Pre-Game Rituals and Routines

Setting up pre-game rituals and routines can help players feel more comfortable and less nervous before a game. Encourage your child to come up with a set of things they do before every game. This could include imagining themselves playing well (visualization), doing some light stretches, or taking part in team traditions. These routines can help them feel more prepared and ready to play. Another helpful idea is to include calming activities. Help your child find things that help them relax and focus, like listening to their favorite music, doing a short meditation or mindfulness exercise, or doing specific stretches. These activities can help ease nerves and get them mentally ready for the game.

  1. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome

Focusing on the game rather than the result is important for players because it helps them stay present and perform at their best. When children get too caught up in worrying about whether they win or lose, it can create unnecessary pressure and distract them from playing their best. By shifting their focus to the game itself, your child can concentrate on executing plays, making good decisions, and giving their best effort. This not only improves their performance but also allows them to enjoy the game more, regardless of the outcome. Emphasizing the process rather than the outcome will also teach your child valuable life skills like resilience, perseverance, and focusing on what they can control. Instead of only thinking about the final score, you can also suggest that your child sets goals for how they play during the game. They could aim to make good passes, play strong defense, or give their best effort. Homing in on smaller goals can help them feel more confident and less stressed when it’s game time. 

The Takeaway 

Helping our young athletes overcome pre-game nerves is crucial for their performance and enjoyment of the game. By implementing strategies like mental and physical preparation techniques, pre-game rituals and routines, and focusing on the process rather than the outcome, we can empower them to face game day with confidence and composure. It's normal to feel nervous before a game, but with the right tools and support, your child can learn to manage those nerves and unleash their full potential on the basketball court. Let's continue to encourage them, celebrate their efforts, and provide them with the guidance they need to thrive in both sports and life.

Training at Ness Basketball 

Join us at Ness Basketball and give your child the opportunity to develop the skills they need to conquer pre-game nerves and excel as players. We are dedicated to providing comprehensive training sessions that not only enhance basketball skills but also teach valuable mental preparation techniques. Don't let pre-game nerves hold your child back from reaching their full potential – sign them up for Ness Basketball today and watch them thrive both on and off the court!

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