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February 08, 2024   |   Tagged Skills

Dealing with Pressure on the Basketball Court

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If you want to be a top basketball player, you need to be able to handle pressure. When you hear the word pressure? What comes to mind? For some, it is a feeling of fear or a sense of being overwhelmed. For some, it is a feeling necessary for the completion of a task and for others, it is a chance to rise above the odds and do something remarkable. This month, consider how you can make the experience of pressure more positive on and off the court.

What is pressure? Pressure in the simplest terms is force applied. We place pressure on a wound to stop it from bleeding. We use pressure on diamonds, (they can withstand the greatest pressure on earth). We can feel under pressure. Pressure is both a physical experience—I feel pressure in my lungs. Or it can be an emotional experience, I feel pressure from my parents to be perfect.

Negative Pressure: Most people are familiar with negative pressure. These are demands, expectations, timelines, deadlines, and can be physical such as pressure on our joints or emotional such as pressure to achieve. Most people refer to pressure in negative terms and student-athletes typically describe the feeling of pressure in sports or life as something that hinders their best performance.

Very few speak about pressure in the positive and not surprisingly, these few are the ones who do well under pressure.

Negative Physical Responses to Pressure: Under negative pressure, your heart rate increases, you can feel nauseous, distracted, paralyzed, or overwhelmed. Pressure can elevate cortisol levels which overtime, can lead to major health issues.

The Complexity of Pressure: During certain events, success or failure means the advancement, redirection, or end of your pursuits. Poor grades can mean the end of the road for sports participation. A missed free throw can mean the loss of a game, which can mean the loss of a future opportunity.

Some events have so much riding on their outcome, the pressure is tangible.

Performance under pressure: Pressure is part of the experience for any high stakes’ endeavors. Becoming better at pressure is a discipline like any in life. A synonym for being able to perform the best under pressured conditions is called Sangfroid. This literally means cold blood. It’s the ability to stop the natural responses of the body that decrease performance such as rapid heart rate, accelerated nerves, jittery or excitable overactions or muted or paralyzed underperformance.

One of the most common qualities a person with sangfroid has others do not is a mindset that is focused, hopeful, steady and unrattled. The person focuses on the task at hand and does not predict the “what if” scenarios of pain, loss, failure, or embarrassment. On the other hand, those without this mindset, often live out and imagine worst-case scenarios that lead to greater levels of anxiety and poor performance.

Basketball Pressure

Sangfroid, or cool-headedness under pressure is a discipline that can be improved just like free throw shooting. Becoming an intentional athlete in the face of pressure is a must requirement for the serious athlete and student.


  1. Control your thoughts. Do your thoughts control you or do you control your thoughts? The answer will determine your frustration with pressure. Your mind should only think about what you want it to think about. If it doesn’t and any kind of thought pulls you off target or out of your zone, start small and work to discipline your mind. Focus on a task. When the mind wanders, have a small consequence in place like a few pushups or lunges. Why you complete these consequences, bring your mind back into a disciplined form of restraint. Remind the mind, it can’t think about whatever it wants right now. Set a time limit and discipline your thoughts.
  2. Elevate Pressure in Practice. One of the important philosophies is that we need to practice hard to play well. Of course, this comes with some important caveats—continuous stress and strain leads to crisis. Build up your ability to navigate pressure, the more internal pressure or external pressure off the court, the more challenges you will have. Balance pressure with true rest.
  3. Create more pressured moments. Begin with lower stakes that you can follow through on such as a few pushups or lunges and build up to more and more pressure as you become stronger. This means having a game plan before your basketball training. Have consequences set ahead of time. Make sure you can’t cheat or quit on the consequences.
  4. Become a student of yourself. Observe your body under pressure. What does it feel like? Do you label these feelings as good or bad? As the feelings increase, do you perform better or worse? What do you notice about this?
  5. Identify the pressure. Is this pressure internal—you feel afraid to be judged or let people down, or embarrassed for making a mistake? Is the pressure external—if you don’t make this grade you might not get the college entrance you wanted.
  6. Redefine your goals. Pressure increases if your goals are external. Make your goals so that they are yours to control. For example, instead of I want to play at Duke University, say you want to have the percentages of a Division 1 top-level college athlete. Is your shooting percentage, turnovers, rebounding, passing around the same numbers under tough competition as other top players?
  7. Diversify. If all your identity is in basketball, your performance pressure will be too great. Basketball should be a joyful part of your journey not the only thing that matters to you. Family, school, meaningful relationships with God and people, other sports and healthy activities help to diversity the pressure around basketball removing the all or nothing pressure pitfall.

About NBC Basketball

NBC Basketball began in Cusick, Washington and has grown to be one of the largest overnight camp programs in the world. Since 1971, NBC Basketball has been training athletes to compete on and off the court. NBC Basketball Camps are located in the USA, Canada and in the UK, Austria, Thailand, and Italy. Find out more about this program designed to elevate the entire person: physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually at www.nbccamps.com.https://www.nbccamps.com

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