Top 6 Ways to Deal with Pre-Game Jitters

By Hunter Swanson | Tuesday, October 2, 2018

You want a colorful description of pre-game jitters, look no further than the Academy Award-winning original song Lose Yourself by the one and only Eminem: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.  There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.  He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs.”

Everyone gets them.  From kids playing their first game to Vince Carter in his 20th year in the NBA, the pre-game jitters never really go away.  It’s our body’s natural response to pressure – it’s getting us ready to perform.  The problem arises when we cannot control those nerves and they negatively impact our game.  From negative talk to full-blown panic, the inability to control the pre-game jitters can spell disaster for our in-game performance.  Here are 6 recommendations to help you control that anxiety and manage those pre-game jitters.

  1. Keep Perspective

Don’t let the moment get too big that it overwhelms you.  Remember that at the end of the day, you are playing a game that is, at the core, meant to be fun.  If you play poorly, what’s the worst that happens?  You get benched.  Keep your fears in check and know that you have done what you can to prepare for this moment and that you are ready.

  1. Accept Reality

Having nerves before a game is completely natural.  They are part of the game so trying to squash them or ignore them is just going to make the nerves worse.  Instead of worrying, think of the nerves as ways to help you focus on performing at your peak.  They are natural adrenaline boosters.

  1. Prepared for Success

This is two-fold.  First, you have done everything you can to prepare for this moment.  The long hours on the field, the sweat in the gym, the time practicing has all been for this.  The second part is telling yourself that you are ready.  You may be able to prepare your body through training, but if you don’t believe you’re ready, it’ll affect your physical performance.  Change the negative self-talk to one of support and belief.  Believing you are ready for success is one of the biggest steps towards succeeding.

  1. Control the Controllable

Panic sets in when we try and control things that are outside of our control.  The weather, the refs, your opponents are all things that you have no control over – so don’t worry about them.  Focus on the things you can control – your approach to the game, your attitude, work ethic, and your body.  Putting your mental energy into this will definitely help your focus and calm the jitters.

  1. Focus on the Process, Not the Result

By focusing how the game is played and not whether you win or lose, you are actually giving yourself the best chance of winning.  You’ve heard it before – stay in the moment.  That’s what the process is: it’s what’s going on at any given moment.  If you focus on the second to second, minute to minute process of the game, you are giving yourself the best chance of coming out with the victory.

  1. Have Fun!

Is it cliché?  Maybe.  Is it true?  Definitely.  Don’t wait until you’re doing well to have fun.  You can maximize your potential to play your best when you’re having fun because you are genuinely engaged in the process.  Relax, be loose, and find that balance between taking the sport seriously and having fun with it.  At the end of the day, it’s a game you’re meant to enjoy!