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Hey, Coach! How do I calm my nerves?

The IMG Academy basketball program trains basketball players at all different levels- from elementary age athletes to professionals. Through the course of the year, players ask important and valuable questions to coaches about how to improve as an athlete and person. Hey, Coach! is a weekly series that will provide insights to many of the common questions asked by athletes. Questions are submitted by basketball players at IMG and answered by the IMG Academy Basketball coaching staff.

Hey, Coach!I'm extremely nervous before a game. It takes halfway through the first quarter to finally relax. Do you have any advice to help me keep calm before the game?

Response from Coach Yusef Fitzgerald- Staff Coach in the IMG Academy Basketball Program

Players who experience intense nerves are having an episode of pre-performance anxiety. Coaches and parents see this and offer these well-meaning words of advice, “Just relax, everything will be fine.” That's easy to say but coaches must be able to teach athletes HOW to relax. Here are some simple suggestions that might help with this process.

Yusef Fitzgerald will enter his third full year in the IMG Academy Basketball Program.

Focus - Players always want to visualize and focus on what is going on at that time: whether it's the lay-up line, pre-game shots, etc. Never try to think about the outcome of the game. Players always want to take a game one play at a time.

Never focus on the opponent during pre-game warm-up. If players are focused on the opponent, then it is difficult to focus on the internal job ahead. Players have been working on their own game just like the opponent, so players should focus on their own preparation and trust in training and ability.

Develop a pre-game ritual/routine- Make sure to warm up with the same routine and intensity before every game. This will provide some sense of consistency and it will move players into the mind frame of "total control of the performance" because the setting, warm-up and routine are familiar and consistent.

Being nervous before a competition is normal and it's going to happen, it's uncontrollable. How we respond to the nervousness is under our control. Don't panic or overreact, just remember that this situation is familiar and once that first bump or first shot happens, it all goes away and the game can really begin.

More importantly BREATHE! - When we are feeling stressed or nervous, a lot of times humans shorten breathing patterns and it adds to the anxiety because it is difficult to relax. It has been proven that deep/deliberate breathing relaxes the mind and the body. Once the mind is relaxed, things tend to slow down and players are able to think things through with a clearer mind state.

For more info on how to stay cool and calm during competition, check out these articles from mental conditioning specialist Josh Lifrak:

How to stay mentally tough during adversity

How to control your emotions during competition

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