Is Your Head Getting in Your Way?

There’s five ticks left on the clock and your team is down one

The coach calls a time-out and goes over the last play of the game with the team. The coach tells you he’s going with YOU! It’s in your hands! The whole season comes down to this one basketball game, to this one final play. Win here and your team goes on to the next round in the tournament. Lose here and the season’s over. The crowd is going crazy. Both benches are on their feet. The air is electric…and you? Where’s your head at a pressure-packed time like this? Do you really want the ball in your hands with the game on the line, or are you quietly freaking out inside worrying about blowing it and embarrassing yourself?

Your basketball skills and moves on the court are only as good as your head. Your physical game is always limited by your mental one!

Are you mentally tough as a basketball player? Can you step up to the foul line and stay calm, loose and focused enough to block out all those razzing fans who are desperately trying to get into your head? What kind of free throw percentage do you shoot now? Are you better in practice than in games? Want to dramatically improve here? Then don’t just practice physically. Start practicing mentally too. Foul shooting is at least 90% mental.

  1. Learn to relax under pressure, focus on what’s important, block out distractions and let go of missed shots.
  2. Control your pre- and in-game focus and you will play with confidence.
  3. Keep your focus IN the game on the action and OUT of your head on your thoughts.
  4. When your focus drifts to thinking, you must quickly bring it back to what you are doing in the moment.
  5. Be prepared to “bring yourself back” as often as your focus drifts.
  6. This is a learned skill and with practice, you’ll get better and better at it.

What role do you play on your team? Are you a super-star and on the court most of the time? Or are you a support player who comes off the bench and gets limited minutes every game. This is THE most difficult position to play on any basketball team? Anybody can act and feel like a winner and keep their head in the game when they get to play all the time. However, it takes real MENTAL TOUGHNESS and character to act like a winner and keep your head in the game when your time on the court is short. Do you know how to mentally stay with it so that when you finally get the coach’s nod, you’re able to play well and make the most of your opportunity? Far too many basketball players sit on the bench and stew about not getting enough PT. When the coach finally puts them in, they’re mentally not ready and can’t get in the flow! As a result, they play poorly and are quickly benched again.

Can you handle your mistakes out on the court? Do you know how to quickly bounce back from missed shots and blown assignments so that these screw-ups don’t follow you around the whole game? The true mark of a champion is how s/he deals with mistakes. When the coach yells at you for blowing it, can you separate his/her message from your self-worth? Can you correct the mistake and confidently put it behind you? I’ve seen far too many talented basketball players perform way below their potential because they couldn’t tolerate making mistakes and never learned how to let those mistakes go. When they messed up, they would mentally beat themselves up for it and kill their self-confidence. Or they’d dwell on the coach’s criticisms and let that erode their self-confidence. Players like Steph Curry, Lebron James, Diana Taurasi, and Larry Bird are so great because they quickly let go of their mistakes and bad shots.

Trying to play well will always get you playing poorly!

  1. The correct mindset for playing championship basketball is a “TRUST & LET IT HAPPEN one.
  2. This means you want to relax and let the game come to you.
  3. Don’t bring your goals and expectations out on the court with you for your games/try-outs.
  4. If you’re “trying to make something happen,” or “prove yourself,” then you’re going to play badly.

Maybe a college or pro scout is watching. Maybe you’re trying to move up from JV to varsity and need to make a good impression on the varsity coach. Understand one important thing here: “trying” to play well will always get you playing poorly! Your game will not come to you if you press or try to force it. You have that great game inside of you, but it will only come out if you relax, trust yourself and “let it happen.”

Working on this mental part of your game can teach you how to focus, block out distractions, manage competitive stress, maintain a positive attitude, develop confidence, and handle hardships like a champion. It can also teach you to rebound quickly from mistakes, bad breaks, and tough losses, and effectively prepare for big games.

I can promise you that if you begin to commit yourself to strengthening your “mental muscles”, you will lift the overall level of your game and maximize your chances of reaching your basketball dreams.

Dr. Alan Goldberg is the former Sports Performance Consultant for the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion UConn Huskies and has worked with NBA, Collegiate and High School players. He specializes in helping athletes overcome performance fears and slumps and perform to their potential. He is the author of Using Your Head To Play Championship Basketball and creator of the audio training program, Basketball with the Competitive Edge.

  • Dr. G, I was very impressed with your techniques for learning concentration and focus as well as producing written goals that can be converted into results. Most importantly you developed great systems for brushing off the Uncontrollables. Thank you so much for such a helpful training tool!

    Naomi Colorado
  • I would be afraid to shoot and get rid of the ball the minute I got it!  Your book, (Using Your Head... Basketball) really helped me calm down and focus. Now I know when I start to make those same old mistakes that I'm able to correct them before they bring me down!

    Jane W
  • I was cut from my school team last season because I was too tentative and intimidated. I wanted to quit and  my mom found your Basketball book. I got really motivated now I'm looking forward to tryouts. My confidence and intensity are back and I am now mentally tougher than ever.

    Carly Tennessee
  • B. has improved a lot on the basketball court since she started using your audio program! The change in her confidence, aggressiveness and focus has taken her game to a higher level. Most of all we are most happy to see that our daughter is once again having fun playing ball! Thanks so much.

    Basketball Parents New York
  • Just wanted to let you know that Casey made the varsity team! She said  she used everything you had taught her on your basketball CDs. She told me to tell you how much it had helped her. I can't thank you enough for your willingness to answer all my questions!

    Jane Georgia
  • Dr. G! What a great book! 'Using Your Head' has helped me help my ball players put it all together under pressure! It's simple to understand yet powerful in its effects! Thanks for such a great training tool!

    Tony Michigan
  • I've been a supporter of your mental toughness and slump busting program for years as a coach for AAU basketball.  As a behavioral scientist I truly appreciate the way you have reduced theory down to a very practical instrument. Thanks for your contribution to youth sports!

    Phil Missouri
  • I purchased your Competitive Edge for Basketball last Christmas. The results were stunningly good! As a parent and Coach, I firmly believe in reviewing what the kids are reading so that I can answer their questions and understand what they are trying to do. Your program is great!

    Will North Carolina


OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE FEARS AND BLOCKS Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities? FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!

WHY DO I ALWAYS SEEM TO DO SO MUCH BETTER IN PRACTICE THAN WHEN IT COUNTS? One of the more common and frustrating problems for athletes and their coaches is to consistently perform better in practice than competitions. What causes this and what can be done to turn it around?

THE MENTAL SIDE OF ATHLETIC INJURIES The mental pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this type of pain is directly addressed and “treated”, your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete.


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