T Nation

Not Neing Able To Handle The Pressure


Hey guys, Im a basketball player and
I have a seruios problem and only about 1 week to fix it. I have been busting my ass during the offseason got way stronger, feet way quicker, my jump has made a tremonduos improvent. Im 6'7" tall weight about 220lbs, and im stronger than almost all high school players that i play and always taller. Im a center and my feet are quicker than all centers. I think i have all the tools to be a dominate player. In practices i absolutely tear it up no one can keep up with me.

Now the problem
Yesterday i had a scrimage and the team i was playing wasnt even good and i totally chocked i played like a bitch only 2 points 4 boards, and 1 block in some good playing time. When coach says im talented enought to easilu put up 20ppg and 15boards a night. Im going to be honest to see if i can get some help when i stepped out on the floor honestly i was nervous, and i didnt even know what to do almost like i was scared to play like i play. I pretty much choked, i wasnt confident in my game and this happens to me all the time, ive never really been good until this year, and guys its killing me that im chocking. can i please get some help on how i can fix this soon, my team is literally loosing games becuase of me. Like for example i have the jumping ability and body to dunk over most people and even when open in games im never confident to try it. Please help me


A lot of people that choke are rookies and less experienced players. They have never experienced the rush and the pressure of game time situations. They have all the skills and all the tools, but the pressure gets to them. These are the people that are great in practices or pick-up games, but stink when it really counts.

Now as players progress and get used to playing in game time situations, a lot of them get better and their play improves. On the other hand, some never get better. I don't know exactly what it is that makes some improve and others fail to get better, but I think a lot of it is confidence and fear related.

If you know that you are stronger, faster, and better than the other players, you have to convince yourself. Get confident in your abilities. Don't be afraid to miss a couple times; it's going to happen. It happens to everybody.

There's a Michael Jordan poster from years ago that talks about succeeding. It says this:
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Don't be afraid to fail. Just learn from it, get better, try harder, practice more, whatever it takes. If you succeed more times than you fail, then I think you're doing ok.

Maybe you're also putting too much pressure on yourself. You know hard hard you have worked to get where you are and you expect more from yourself. This can be good and bad. You should expect a lot from yourself, but perhaps if things don't go your way early you get frustrated. I don't know you; I'm only guessing here.

Really you just need to get out there and do it. If you have the ability to dunk over these people, then try it. Maybe you will miss, maybe you won't, but you've got to try.

I'd be willing to bet, though, that if you did make it, you're going to feel a lot better about yourself and your chances to succeed next time you have that chance.

If you do miss, figure out why and fix it. Was it a physical mistake? A mental mistake? Did the opponent stop you?

The best advice I can give you is to go out and play. Get over any fears of failing you might have. And try to do basic things that will build your confidence early in games. Good luck to you.

I can almost touch the rim,


Hey, there, Future! Wellllllllllllllll, I guess I've got a recommendation for you. (grin)

Stress levels are exceedingly high in Japan. It's a pressure cooker -- long hours and high expectations for people professionally, and of course the pressure to produce and to WIN. The Japanese use a calming ingredient that's actually found in green tea to increase focus and concentration and at the same time calm the nerves. It's called L-Theanine. They include it into drinks, snacks, cookies, candy bars, etc.

It's available here in the States, and it's a cheap enough experiment. It's not a drug. Start off with a capsule or two and increase one capsule at a time until you find an effective dosage. I've never needed to take more than a couple of capsules.

Do some research. If you decide to try it out, let me know how it works for you.

Good luck!


all I have to say is relax and don't take it too seriously, but take it seriously. I used to have the same problem.


I have tried Theanine too, and I think it helps. Been taking it for anxiety (which runs in my family) every morning for past 7 months. 200 mg.


I can relate to what you are saying as the same thing happened to me in numerous athletic performances and later when I began public speaking.(My first really big event, I wet my pants and was wearing khaki's)

This is a very common problem and I can tell you that the VERY FACT that you acknowledge the problem tells me that you will conquer it very quickly. Most people will not acknowledge any sort of weakness because of ego, insecurities, etc. just keep training and playing and it will resolve


huh....i had the opposite problem in high school. i could never get "up" for pratice, but always tore it up in games...

my football team sucked, but i played hard and had fun and didn't worry about screwing up. it's just a game....just enjoy it and work hard. maybe that's too simplistic, but really that's all there is to it...

listen dude, you got the tools. you've worked hard. next game, focus on one thing, like getting more boards, and let it build your confidence, and go up from there....


It sounds as though you let your coaches words get to you and you question your abilities a bit. I know this sounds like a strange "diagnosis". What I am saying is, I do not think you are quite ready for a bunch of people, especially a person of authority (your coach) to tell you how good you are. This really is a more common problem than you probably think, especially with good talented athletes. Psychology really is a big part of sports. My advice to you is, make your motivation to succeed internal and not external. What I mean is, if you have a good day it was due to your ability as a basketball player. If you have a bad day, that does not mean you are all of a sudden a bad palyer but do not blame the bad game on somebody fouling you, or the fans at an away game, etc. By no means do I mean you are now a solo player either. You win with your team and you lose with your team. But after each game you should analyze your own play, and do not lie to yourself. Tell yourself what you did well, and what you could have done better.

Second, as mentioned before never, never , never be afraid to fail. If you are afraid then you have already failed.


I forgot to add you should also not be afraid to succeed. As they say, do not play not to lose.


Everybody has good games and bad games. Sometimes nothing feels right and nothing goes your way. It happens. Don't sweat it.

Anyway, you need to drop the pressure level a bit. You don't have to be a superstar or anything. You simply have to play the game. Trust yourself, your skills don't need to be pushed, just play. Have fun.

After a few good weeks it will be second nature (again).


malonetd's summation is a pretty good one. having played in a college world series and several regional championships i have been exposed to high pressure situations. i can tell you that at least in my experience, the fact that you were nervous is a good thing! that is your body's way of telling you that you are ready to perform at a higher level. the trick here is being able to control your emotions and eliminating your doubts and fears.

too often do you see athletes who have all the physical tools in the world, but a 10 cent head to go with it. the mental game is often the difference between reaching your potential...or being a never-was. i am not suggesting that you fall into the "10 cent head" category. your "choke" as you put it seems like a result of inexperience and/or placing too much pressure on yourself.

seeing as you are a great practice player with all the physical tools, i would suggest focusing on the mental aspect of the game. try techniques like visualization to improve your game. sport psychologists theorize that the body is unable to differentiate between an event which is imagined, and one that is real. with this in mind, take time each day to sit quietly and see yourself being successful in games. imagine yourself making jumpers, sinking free throws, driving to the basket with success, dominating the glass etc etc. try to make these visualizations as vivid and detailed as possible....complete with sounds associated with the game. this may sound like a bunch of hippie BS, but it worked for me and many many other athletes.

good luck


You're choking because you're playing scared. You're playing scared because you lack experience. In your mind you know what you should be capable of doing, but you don't believe it in your heart. It sounds cheesy, but it's true. So, the key for you is developing some emotion to go along with that talent. The good thing is that your body can lead the way in that area.

In practice, you kill people because you know them, you're comfortable with them. But, when it's a stranger, you tighten up. You don't know their tendencies and you don't know if they're going to lay you out if you try to drive on them. That sounds like me playing basketball in high school and being intimidated because I was a twig and I thought that I wasn't as good as the other guys (I only played pickup games).

As a pitcher, I didn't have that problem because I had proven myself TO MYSELF over and over again. I only got nervous in big games and I got nervous in quite a few college games as well until I got comfortable with the elevated level of play. You get better at learning tendencies faster and getting to maximum intensity faster.

Back to basketball. . . as I played more pickup games in college, I found that the best way for me to get over my timid play was to make the decision to be aggressive and then just go out and make some physical contact right away - hand check, post up, whatever. Don't concentrate on anything else except the first exchange. Just tell yourself, "Let's go" every time you handle the ball or your man gets the ball. Hell, I even smile a little when I think it and nothing pisses someone off more than you smirking at them like they aren't shit.

Find some pickup game at an outdoor court or at the Y. Play as many unfamiliar people as possible. Play big guys - older guys. I play at a YMCA, my community center, and at a neighborhood houses center in one of the worst areas of town. I'm never the best player. Sometimes, I may even be the worst. But, when I feel nervous, I just get inside and start banging and before you know it, I'm just playing.

Remember, when you start pushing on someone, the guy you're checking will try to pick up his intensity. He may even beat you on the first play or two. So you go beat? Just think, "No more of that shit," file the information away, and pick up the intensity. You won't ever win by shutting down and watching. You win by dialing it up every time and sticking your nose it the middle of it. The next time he goes for the same move, you can jump it. If you don't jump fast enough, believe me, you'll jump faster the next time.

Then, you go at him again and ramp it up a little more and make some more contact. Eventually, you'll be comfortable with contact and, more importantly, the intensity level around you because right now you're reacting instead of acting on your environment. You're watching instead of putting yourself in the middle of the action. You're scared.

Don't be. Stick you nose in it. Get bumped around. Get knocked on your ass. Get right back into it. You're not going to get shot or knifed in there. The worst thing that can happen is that you get beat or get flattened. Throw an elbow, lay up on your guy, hand check, but just get comfortable with touching someone and being in close proximity to someone who's intensity is ramped up to beat you. Don't be intimidated by aggression. Just keep ramping up your own intensity to match. You may find that the only way you can cope initially is to play pissed off. So, get pissed, get anything, but don't get passive. The more aggressive player almost always wins. If you foul out a couple times, don't worry about it. You will have contributed more in the time you were in there than an entire game of passive, timid play.

In basketball, there are many ways to contribute, many of which you can do well even if you're timid on the offensive side of the ball (fine motor ability goes to hell when you're inexperienced). When all else fails, just concentrate on defense, grabbing boards, and passing and leave the scoring to the other guys. BANGING AROUND FOR BOARDS IS ABSOLUTELY THE BEST WAY TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH NEW BODIES FLYING AROUND YOU. Get in there and fight every time. Jump as high as you can and rip the ball down as hard as you can every time. Be Dennis Rodman.

When you've gotten comfortable banging around with people, your scoring will come. Once you've settled down, the desire will build up and suddenly you'll be calling for the ball because that guy on your back will have just become another body that you've grown accustomed to and whose intensity you match or surpass. You'll start worrying less and less about what he's doing and you'll start concentrating more on exerting your will on him.

When you start getting comfortable enough to shoot, you're still going to lay some serious bricks. Relaxing while shooting (along with ball-handling for the point) is probably the toughest thing to do. You have to keep shooting - be sure to use your best moves right away to develop some flow in your game. Don't abandon them if they don't fall, keep using them until you get your range. Then, move on to other things. Eventually, you'll notice that you're relaxed when you go up for the shot. At that point, you'll be completely in the game, just worrying about playing and making adjustments. Then, it gets fun again. And, when it's fun, you'll really start to develop your skills and start pushing what you do in games compared to practice.

It's going to take time, but it will happen. Don't get discouraged. Get pissed. Pick up the intensity. Dial up your aggression. Just rebound and play D like a madman!