“I Played Badly Because I’m Nervous/Scared. What Should I Do?”
I receive lots of emails, ranging through every aspect of the game. Answering them is pretty much routine for me now, except for this one. The above-titled inquiry is one question that has me wishing that email could include physical contact — that way I could reach through your inbox and slap you upside your head.
Being scared is not something that happens to you. Fear is a man-made vision, that exists only in your head. You can’t put gas in fear. You can’t throw fear in the washing machine. Fear does not get colder in the freezer. Fear is not battery-operated.
Here are some (self-appointed) facts about scared people and basketball:
- As part 2 of the two-part advice that served as inspiration for my book “Buy A Game,” the best player I had known in middle school told me to ‘stop playing scared.’ This was the second-most important piece of information I ever received about basketball (the other is the title of said book).
- Basketball is not a requirement of life. Therefore, if you’re scared, you are free to quit and never pick up a ball again.
- Fixing a fearful attitude is not like putting together a bookshelf — there is no instruction manual, YouTube video, or person you can hire to take care of it for you. You’re stuck with it, for as long as you choose to have this issue.
- A scared basketball player is worse than a garbage, unskilled player. If you’re scared, stay home. With a bum player, we just don’t give him the ball, and take whatever useful contributions he can happen into. A scared player makes the team worse.
Despite my harsh and blunt delivery on the topic of playing basketball scared , I completely understand you, Scared Player. You’re nervous in front of the crowd. That other player is way bigger and better than you. There are girls/guys watching you — YOU — play. Someone on the other team or in the crowd is heckling you and contributing to those turnovers. I went through it myself (read my book). I get it.
I also got over it. And there was no YouTube (or email, Facebook, or DreAllDay.com) in 1996.
Now, Generation-Y individual, I know what you’re expecting now. You think I’m gonna give you a bullet-pointed list of what to do next time you’re scared, and it will solve all your life’s problems, right up until your next crisis in two weeks, at which point you will scramble to the Internet again and hope to find that answer to that one, too. Well, you’re partially right.
Here’s what to do next time you’re playing basketball and you feel scared:
- Option A: Get the hell off of the court and let someone who is not scared take your place so the spectators can see a good game (not personally recommended, but I’d be remiss to not tell you that most people I know have chosen this option in certain situations, though not explicitly).
- Option B: Ignore the thing you’re afraid of and stay at least 100 feet away from it, thus avoiding your issues and setting the stage for you to repeat this process for the rest of your life of avoiding obvious situations that you choose not to address. This is better known as denial, in which you act like the problem doesn’t exist. Then you do the same to the next problem and the next, until you have a 100-foot halo between yourself and so many other things that the only thing you can safely do is stand in one spot and never move, speak or try anything outside of your standing-spot scope (long-winded metaphor that I hope you caught onto — re-read of necessary).
- Option C: Identify what it is you’re afraid of and go do it (my option of choice).
- Anytime, throughout the rest of your life, when you find yourself afraid, mentally cycle through the above steps, in order. Enjoy your life.
The only way you will (really and permanently) get over any fears in your life is to do that thing. There are no secrets to it. Having someone or something else handle you fears for you, in the long run makes you weaker. Every time you decline to address your issues head-on, you get weaker. Having someone else step in for you makes you dependent, and when that person/thing is not there for you, then what? ‘Your weapon is only a tool!’
Scared of trying your moves in games? Try one and mess up doing it. Turn the ball over. Shoot an airball. Miss a wide-open layup. The cops will not stop the game to arrest you. Your legs won’t fall off. As soon as you forget about it, everyone else will. The game continues. (Watch the second game on this page, in which I shot two air balls — and the heckler in the crowd was very loud about both. You’ll also see that I dominated this game, and we won. And that heckler? He was coming over to shake my hand after the game.)
Scared of talking to girls? Approach the next attractive one you see in the mall. Get her attention, smile and say hello. Introduce yourself. Tell her you just wanted to say hi to her and walk away (or you can take it further — but that’s another blog post for another day). Now it’s over. Was that so hard? Did you live through it? Could you do that again? Good.
The difference between fear and boldness is a very thin line. The circumstances are exactly the same; the difference is in how the individual sees the circumstances in her mind. You can see the circumstance as something holding you back, obstructing your path and created to stop you. This is what the fearful person sees.
The bold individual? Given those exact same circumstances, the bold person sees something that better move the hell out of her way, or be in trouble. The trash talker, instead of the person trying to embarrass her, is crash dummy that wishes to have themselves embarrassed in front of all those people. Since the trash-talker started it, after all (and even if they didn’t), the bold individual is more than happy to oblige.
Like all the mental stuff I discuss, dealing with fear in basketball has nothing to do with your shooting mechanics, vertical jump, or crossover technique. Watch the video at the top of this post (again). Anything outside of your head and heart is merely a tool that was given to you, and will be one day taken away from you (your basketball skills included). What will you stand on then?
Fear is for the weak.