The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is in my opinion the BEST time for basketball of the year! It’s a time for teams to showcase their talents and players to make a name for themselves against competition that they usually don’t compete against during the regular season. While a lot of the opening games of the tournament generally result in larger margins of victory, games in the other rounds usually are down to the wire! The passion and determination to compete and win is undeniable.
As a coach, it is just as important for you to prepare your players for pressure situations then it is for the X’s and O’s of the game. You can teach your players to run plays all day, but if they aren’t prepared to knock down free throws consistently at the end of the game then you probably won’t win many games. This also holds true on the defensive end as well. Players need to know how to stay disciplined; when and when not to foul, who specifically to foul based on the scouting report…etc.
There’s a great book that I’d recommend all coaches read if you haven’t already called Mind Gym by Gary Mack. The book looks at the mental aspects of sports and how peak performing athletes channel their mind to perform their best. One of the chapters talks about an athlete named Scott Hamilton. Scott won a Gold Medal in the 1980 Olympics as a Figure Skater. He says, “Under pressure you can perform fifteen percent better or fifteen percent worse.” This has a lot of validity to it! Just think, most of the time your best player in those pressure situations will either propel you to win or let an opportunity slip away and lose. On the positive end the difference may be hitting a few clutch free throws, knocking down a three or driving hard to the lane for the And 1. On the negative side is the obvious; a turnover, missed or bad shot or maybe not even getting an attempt up.
Teach each of your players to prepare for those pressure situations. They must learn how to visualize themselves in a challenging place and then know what to do before it actually happens. Visualization is an important factor for success. Studies show that those who have been trained to visualize the outcome before it happens are most likely to perform better than those who don’t experience that type of training. Some simple ways to help your teams visualize success is to get them all in a quiet room before a game and allow them to close their eyes and run through specific plays and situations in their head. Seeing those situations before they happen will, in a sense, give them more experience. Although it’s a different type of experience, it is still an experience that will most likely help them to perform better and have more confidence.
Reflection is an important piece of this preparation well. Help your players to reflect on their great performances by asking them specific questions that will allow them to recall moments when they performed at their best. Some good questions can be:
- How did you feel?
- We’re you excited or anxious?
- We’re you relaxed or tense?
- What were you doing when you were really on your game?
- How do you do those things?
- Did you prepare differently for this opponent than for others?
Pressure can be used as a positive force or a negative one. In order to turn that force around positively, players need to not have any fear of certain pressure situations. They must become immersed in the activity rather than focusing on their performance for their best chance to have a desired outcome!