“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – are all an opportunity for me to rise”— Kobe Bryant
Most athletes in the world from high school to college, from professional to Olympian, one time or another, has choked under pressure.
Sometimes, they are able to bounce back. Other times, a botched play can haunt an athlete for the rest of his or her career, such as John Carney of the New Orleans Saints’ missing an easy field goal which led to elimination from the 2003 playoffs or when 88 percent free-throw shooter Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks missed a necessary second free-throw and lost game 3 of the 2006 NBA finals, ultimately losing the championship.
It’s important to figure out how you can apply basketball mental game skills to high pressure situations.
According to sport psychologists for basketball, athletes can learn to develop robust mental skills to help them fulfill their potential under pressure, and importantly, help others around them fulfill their potential.
In sports, athletes who are able to use their mind as a valuable weapon to beat out the competition when performing under pressure.
So how can you stop choking when under pressure? Here are some tips:
Slow down the game by taking your time: Despite the fact that not choking involves not thinking, clearing your mind often, paradoxically, involves a deliberate routine. Pitchers may check the bases, regardless if any players are on them, before a pitch. Basketball players may dribble a certain way, or throw the ball up in the air, before taking a free throw. When you rush into any of these scenarios, you hamper your body’s ability to go into auto-pilot, and thus increase your chances of choking.
Play like you don’t care: You can separate the process from the outcome. The more you fixate on the outcome, whether or not a play was executed properly, whether or not the other team is ahead or not, the more likely you are to choke up. You need to both play as if you don’t care about the outcome while simultaneously giving the game your all.
Tell yourself you can do it:
Confidence is the foundation of basketball mental skills for performance. If you’ve lost confidence, not only will your overall performance decline, but you’re far more likely to choke up. For most elite athletes, the ability to maintain their basketball mental toughness and confidence is the one skill that puts them ahead of the rest.
Repeating positive statements about yourself has been shown to decrease the likelihood of losing your confidence, which can keep you focused throughout the game.
Remember, the statements should be based on fact. It’s not just positive thinking that helps, its positive statements that are true. “I’ve succeeded in this situation before” (if you have!) is a much more effective self-statement than, “I can do this!”
Take your time, practice a positive inner dialog to be more confident and just play to enjoy the game. These steps may seem simple but can massively improve your mental game results.
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