How to Overcome Fear Before & During a Basketball Game

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How Not to Play Basketball Scared

overcoming basketball fear

Everyone gets nervous or anxious before engaging in one thing or the other. Even those who are very good at what they do, can experience fear. It is natural for humans to feel this way!

Occasionally, I would have this overwhelming nauseous feeling before playing in front of a crowd, guarding a very skilled opponent, thinking about the results of a game before even playing, and even playing pick up basketball.

Some times I couldn’t control the feeling even if I had confidence in my game that day. A lot of this anxiety came from my passion to do well and win games!

Honestly, I was confident in my abilities, I worked on my game 2 – 3 hours a day, but why did I feel anxious before and during my basketball games?

This article is for those who might have felt an overwhelming sense of nervousness when playing in a basketball game and even before the actual game.

That means it is for EVERYONE that plays competitive basketball because if you haven’t felt this gut feeling, then honestly you don’t have true passion for the game!

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While it is a common thing among athletes, court nervousness can be caused by various factors.

I’m not psychologists but I would think a lot of basketball anxiety comes from the pressure put on players from their own internal fears, coaches, parents, fans, peers, and etc. 

Credible studies show that student-athletes might fail to get help because of the fear of losing respect among peers and appearing weak.

According to research, causes of performance anxiety by athletes can consist of the following:

1. High Expectations

An article featured in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) reveals that many athletes face performance anxiety because of the high expectations placed on them by their coach, teammates, supporters and even the media.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the pressure I felt on the basketball court, but was it ALWAYS the external factors or my own internal fears and perception of what I really thought they expected?

Competition might be too stiff and you might be afraid that you will fail. Anxiety can occur at all levels of the game, including the professional level.

NBA players are not exempt from this feeling even though they are the best of the best! They need to win games, they need to perform individually, and ultimately they need to help their team win championships.

Imagine this type of pressure?

Even if you perform well in practice or practice every single day until you can’t dribble or run, you can still develop fear on game day. Performance anxiety is said to take place when excessive perceived stress affects your performance.

Bill Russell, one of the GREATEST basketball players to ever play the game was known to vomit before important games. That was how he dealt with his fear before he played.

Here is a list of the top 15 athletes that literally got sick before games. They dealt with their fears in their own way to overcome the anxiety they felt before they played the sport that they loved. 

One of the possible reasons why anxiety increases during an important game is because of the presence of an audience or crowd.

There has been a ton of players that looked like a top collegiate performer, but when they played Duke at Cameron Indoor stadium, they looked like a scrub!

pressure from basketball crowd

Courtesy of New York Times

However, your interpretation of the situation can determine how confident you are as a basketball player. If you do not motivate yourself, you will experience stress, fear and anxiety.

What I mean by this is convince your brain by telling yourself, it is just a game, you are going to play well and help your team win! 

Butterflies may occur initially, but in the middle of the battle, your nerves will settle down and you can focus on every possession, one at a time!

The thoughts you have before the game matter as well. To overcome this anxiety, you need to modify your thoughts with proper psychology and mental practice.

These techniques on how to not be scared when playing basketball can help you prepare yourself mentally and psychologically before and during the game:

Ask yourself this question, no really….

What do you care?

  • Cultivate the attitude that there is nothing to lose whether you win or lose the game. If you win or lose, life continues. After all, it is just a game.
  • Certainly, you, your fans and coach will be disappointed, but then, so what? You may find yourself relaxing and even starting to enjoy the game when you remove the burden off your own shoulders.
  • Even during the pressures of the game, the game is meant to be fun and enjoyment from the other challenges you will face in your life!

Concentrate on the immediate task instead of the outcome!

  • That’s key! One step at a time, don’t focus on winning or losing. Control your performance by playing hard on every single play and giving it your all to help your team win!
  • Players that perform well whether they win or lose typically feel a sense of accomplishment in their own individual efforts. If you are busting your butt on every play, working hard, the anxiety that you have will wear off. 
  • You should not think too much about what will happen after the game. Any in case, remove negative thoughts by focusing on your breathing.

Appear Cheerful. Be Happy!

  • Basketball teaches life lessons, more than most people know. I know because I coach a lot of young kids and help them develop under pressure, show them what working hard means, help them succeed on and off the court, become a leader, be a team player, and etc.
  • These are all things they will need when they grow up to be successful! Life is more about the people you love, share your happiness with them even regardless of the pressure you feel from basketball. 
  • Even if you do not feel like it, force a grin or smile whenever possible. By focusing on smiling, you will forget about the weight of the game, and this will surely help you relax and appreciate the opportunity you have to actually play basketball and your surroundings.

2. Injury

Physical injury can cause even the best athletes to develop performance anxiety. It may have physical origins, but it could change into a psychological problem if not handled properly.

I remember when I pulled my groin while playing at Davidson College. I was so eager to come back after rehab and I did come back pretty strong, but guess what? I pulled it again within weeks and was out a few more months…

I’m not sure if pulling your groin muscle is classified as severe, but it did keep me a way from the game that I love for months! After pulling it a second time, I was very much afraid to perform at the level I expected because I didn’t trust my groin. This definitely developed some performance anxiety in my life because I wanted to play!

NCAA outlines reasons for performance anxiety among athletes and explains that you can become afraid of being injured again if you have had experienced a severe injury.

The study reveals that 71% of injured gymnastic athletes sampled, reported developing anxiety about returning to their beloved sport.

If you are concerned about how to not be nervous during a basketball game after an injury, you should consult with your doctor, physical therapist, or coach before the game.

You should also focus on the game at hand and what you can control. Whatever your reasons, the anxiety that may arise should be handled through mental toughness training and confiding in your doctor, coach and teammates.

If you are cleared, play the game…

How would Michael Jordan handle it?

One of the most effective techniques on how to overcome nervousness when playing basketball is to remember that even the best in the game experience the same feeling.

So, how do basketball greats overcome their fear?

It is true that basketball legend, Michael Jordan, might appear to be free of anxiety when he is on the court. However, just like you out there on the court, he might be weighed down by the expectations of people, him being the star of the team or the best player on the entire planet.

Think about it this way, your stress, compared to Jordans, is nothing! Imagine billions of fans putting their hopes on you during the NBA finals which would determine whether you win the championship or not.

One thing is for sure: Jordan would never allow mistakes he did in the court prevent him from playing hard with his God giving abilities. He would shrug it off and continue to give 100% of his effort. Even the flu couldn’t stop this man from scoring 63 points in the Garden!

Whenever you feel anxious that you will not play well, just relax, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and overthink the situation with other people’s expectations. I know this is easier said than done, but remember life goes on whether you win or lose.

Take a step back before or during your game, preferably before, and remind yourself that you will play like your favorite NBA player. Envision your success on the court. Think about the BIG shot that you are going to make or the GREAT assist that you set your teammate up with for the game winner. 

It starts in the mind! 

Think successful thoughts, work hard on your game, play hard every time you are on the court, and let everything else take care of itself!

Even if you do all the things mentioned above and you miss an important shot or even lose the game, it is just a game that should be enjoyed for what it is, one of the greatest sports to ever play!


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How to Overcome Fear Before & During a Basketball Game by

2 Responses to “How to Overcome Fear Before & During a Basketball Game”

  1. Jason

    Hey Lamar,

    Awesome article! I greatly struggled with this my first couple years of high school, but then my junior and senior year it’s as if I flipped a switch. I didn’t get nervous unless it was a huge game.

    I think for me the issue was in the fact that I started basketball later than my teammates so I felt like I wasn’t good enough even though I practiced 4-5 hours per day in the summer and 2 hours per day during the school year. I caught up with them skill-wise within a year, but mentally I still thought of myself as a worse player which showed in my game.

    You make a good point with asking “why do you care,” but I think an important issue to address is that it’s not that easy to just shrug it off. It’s a confidence issue that can chase you both on and off the court if you let it.

    One thing that really helps, and that goes in hand with focusing on the immediate task at hand, is mindful meditation. If you meditate for 5-10 minutes for a month, you’ll start focusing more on the now which will lead to less stress during the game.

    Cheers! 🙂


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