Dealing with Pregame Nerves

November 27, 2023

Beating Pregame Nerves + Anxiety

Basketball and sports in general can be a stressful ordeal for players at all levels. Many players suffer from pregame anxiety and doubts about their performance, which unsurprisingly makes their performance suffer. The mental side of basketball plays an enormous role in performance and it affects every single player regardless of how experienced they may be.  

Here are 4 effective methods that I used during my playing career to limit pregame nervousness and maximize my performance.

Deep Breathing

Studies have shown that slow, deep breathing "increases the oxygen level in the body, promotes relaxation, improves concentration, and improves posture." 

In my personal experience deep breathing allowed me to relax before games and approach them from a calm mind state. This allowed me to be more poised and under control than I would be otherwise on the court once the game started.


Visualization is an extremely effective technique that allows players to put themselves in successful situations before they even happen. This can do wonders for a player’s confidence and allow them to enter into games with a relaxed demeanor. Many sports psychologists endorse visualization as being extremely helpful but what are athletes supposed to visualize? The best way to start is to visualize that outcome that you want: winning, playing great defense, scoring lots of points etc. The next step is to incorporate the 5 senses: what does the crowd sound like after a basket, what does the basketball feel like coming out of your hands on a perfect shot etc. The combination of all of the sensory cues help you create a better image of what success looks like.

Listening to Music

Listening to music is another great pregame routine, depending on whether a player wants to get hyped up or they want to mellow out, they can make a playlist to suit their needs. High energy music can elevate a player's adrenaline and help them bring energy to the game. If someone is a more anxious type, calmer, smoother music can help them go into a game calm without their nerves heightened.

Game Day workout

This is my personal favorite!  Going through a light workout/training session on the day of a game used to give me tremendous confidence going into tip off. Obviously, it’s not wise to go too hard and tire oneself out, but 5-10 minutes of ballhandling + 5-10 minutes of catch and shoot + 5-10 minutes of pull up jumpers + 5-10 minutes of finishing/moves to the basket can make a huge difference - I know it did for me during my career. As long as the workout is light and relevant to one’s role on your team I think it’s a no brainer for anyone that has any nerves going into games. Getting some reps prior to competition is never a bad thing unless you overdo it.

This is not an exhaustive list of game-day preparation insights but it’s definitely a start. Using one or more of these methods consistently can make a serious difference with pregame nerves and ultimately with in game performance. 

Migliaccio GM, Russo L, Maric M, Padulo J. Sports Performance and Breathing Rate: What Is the Connection? A Narrative Review on Breathing Strategies. Sports (Basel). 2023 May 10;11(5):103. doi: 10.3390/sports11050103. PMID: 37234059; PMCID: PMC10224217.

Neck, Chris P., and Charles C. Manz. "Thought self‐leadership: The influence of self‐talk and mental imagery on performance." Journal of organizational behavior 13.7 (1992): 681-699.

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