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How to Mentally Prepare For a Basketball Game

Imagine for a moment that you had to play your next basketball game with weights strapped to your shoulders. In addition to trying to tie your shoes and make sure your headband is on properly, you throw ankle weights on before you step onto the court.

Seems ridiculous right?

No athlete would purposefully play with ankle weights strapped on or a weighted backpack hanging from their shoulders. But almost all athletes, at one time or another, step onto the court with a pack full of emotions. Before their game, they stuff the pack full of all their fears: fear of not being good enough, fear of letting down their teammates, fear of the unknown. Maybe they even cram other unproductive thoughts deep down in the pack in case they are needed even though they have no control over it -- referees, parents, friends, coaches, playing time, shots made.

Many of these same athletes then wonder why they are not playing to their fullest potential and why they are no longer having fun and why the game seems more like a chore than something they love more than anything.

This made up backpack of emotions is just as real and just as debilitating as having an actual pack of weights on your shoulders.

So better than taking it off, don't put it on.

One of my favourite ways to do this, is to have a mental pregame checklist.

Keep in mind that a true pregame routine, the type of routine used by top athletes, gives an athlete time to relax, to affirm in their mind their talents and hard work, and to focus on the game without getting caught up in external distractions. Many athletes in todays sports like to listen to music before crunch time, which can be a great way to tune out and focus. In addition to that, I suggest the following, which I like to discuss during our talks at basketball camp.

  • Shut your eyes.
  • Take 5 deep breaths, feeling the air move through you as you inhale and exhale slowly.
  • Mentall replay three to five of your all time best performances.
  • See, hear, and feel everything you experienced in those games just as if it were happening right now.
  • Take some more deep breaths, maybe five.
  • Say some positive affirmations to yourself, such as "I am a great basketball player." Or, "I play hard, try my best and that's what matters." Maybe, "Today I will give myself to the game and have fun doing it." Or perhaps, "I'm a passionate leader that drives my team to play hard."

Focus on playing your hardest, being a great teammate and having fun. This will make you relaxed and excited, which is the perfect combination for peak performance.

Ben Knights runs multiple kids basketball camps across Sydney during the school holidays.

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