When I teach basic sports psychology skills to athletes, one of the most common questions I get asked is, How do I manage my nerves during games?
At a crucial point in a game, you don't have time to get a relaxing hot stone massage, right? The best, quickest way to calm those jitters is to take a 3-second breath. Breathe in for 1 second through your nose, and out for 2 seconds through your mouth. In for 1 second, out for 2 seconds. If you have the time, a 6-second breath (in for 2 seconds, out for 4-seconds) is even better!
Try it right now.
This simple technique helps in several ways. It lets you regroup and gather your thoughts. Second, it takes your mind off any worrisome thoughts you're having. And lastly, you're even using neuroscience to help yourself. Breathing out activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body's natural relaxation system.
Of course you breathe all the time, so this isn't a new skill. But it is helpful to practice doing this particular type of breathing, so it's second nature and you remember to use it in games. Start by practicing it off the court. Pair taking a 3 or 6-second breath with something you do regularly. For example, practice it every time you check Facebook or every time you eat, so you're doing it repeatedly during your day. (You might even find that you're more relaxed as you practice it!)
Then start to practice it regularly when you're participating in your sport. For example, every time you hit an overhead shot in tennis or you're at the free-throw line in basketball. Soon you'll be using it automatically.
Complex and hard to do? Nope.
I hope you'll give this easy technique a try!