Overcoming Playoff Game Day Jitters

Guest post by Heather Henderson,Associate Director of Internet Marketing at RIP-IT Sports

Almost every athlete will tell you that they get game day jitters before any big game, especially if it’s an all-star or playoff tournament. Sometimes the nerves will set in a few days or just a few hours before the beginning of the game and then either two things happen: 1) the nerves will get the better of the player and result in inconsistent play or 2) the jitters will inspire the player to really step up and compete at their best. Noted sports psychologist Jacqui Louder has said, “Good nerves are when our feelings and thoughts assist us positively to perform and complete the task or performance to a level we are happy with,” and today we will discuss a few drills (and tips) to turn playoff game jitters into “good nerves” and the best playoff performance possible.

A Few Days Before the Game

Many athletes will experience anxiety a few days (typically between 3 and 5) before a big playoff tournament or championship game. This anxiety is often called “pressure to compete” and leaves players feeling worried and nervous at the thought of participating in the game. Players who feel the jitters a few days before the playoff game often bombard themselves with negative questions like, “Will I let my team down?” “Will I play inconsistently?” “What if the team loses because of a mistake I made?”

These questions are not helpful and acclaimed sports and life coach Tony Robbins has recommended that asking the right questions can change a person’s outlook on the game and their performance. Instead of worrying if you let the team down, instead focus and ask yourself how you can lead the team to victory. Robbins also suggests that our physical state can impact play and suggests taking your energy level to a more efficient level, “The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.”

Tips for Jitters a Few Days Before the Playoff Game:

• Ask Questions- Avoid negative, self deprecating questions and ask constructive questions that help you envision a positive outcome.

Change Your Physical State– This is done through smiling, standing upright and breathing confidently. Doing these things will change your state and provide a confident feeling as well as more personal/athletic energy.

On Game Day

If you are one of the lucky athletes who only experiences championship jitters a few hours before the game, the tips listed above are also helpful leading up to the first inning. But other ways to remove game day jitters can include process centered thinking, pre-game rituals, mental acceptance and meditation. 

    • Process Centered Thinking

Instead of thinking about a win or loss, center your thoughts on the process. Visualize a play point by point and engage in mentally focusing on the positive aspects of that play as well as how it could be improved. Countless studies have found that mental imagery (visualization) in combination with physical practice can produce incredible results on the diamond. 

    • Pre-Game Rituals

Almost every athlete at all playing levels has developed some type of pre-game ritual. Whether it is performing a warm up routine exactly the same, visualizing an outcome, listening to your favorite song or gripping your fastpitch softball bat a certain way, it is important to stick to that routine during the post-season. The brain often relaxes with routine and continuing a pre-game ritual will help the brain relax and prepare for optimal play in the big game. 

    • Mental Acceptance

Some of the best athletes in the world say they became professionals in their sport once they accepted the fact the pre-game jitters were a fact of life and that they usually did better when they were a little nervous. The mental acceptance of jitters can be ground breaking in actually focusing on the game at hand instead of worrying about the butterflies in your stomach. Also accept that there will be some things you cannot change on the game day… don’t fret yourself with the weather, the opposing team or the umpire, and instead focus on what you can change, which is your level of play and the outcome of the game. 

    • Meditation

Performing deep breathing exercises or listening to calming music are excellent ways that many athletes will relax/meditate before an important game. This is also an excellent time to ask the right questions (mentioned above) or to visualize the tournament’s overall outcome.

Transforming Game Day Jitters Into Good Nerves

Good nerves can result in better play and championship wins, which is why we suggest implementing any of the tips listed above to transform your game day jitters into positive play. We wish you the best of luck this post-season and the best playoff performance possible.

About the Author Heather Henderson is an Associate Director of Internet Marketing at RIP-IT Sports and loves dedicating her free time to volunteer with the Special Olympics organization’s softball teams. She also enjoys reading, the batting cages and spending time outdoors.


About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on June 16, 2013, in Mental game. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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