5 Tips for Beating Pre-Game Jitters

A nervous soccer player talking with his coach.

If you tend to get nervous before playing in a big game, you’re not alone. Athletes of all professional levels and abilities get pre-game jitters, which often include racing thoughts, pounding heartbeats, and/or shaking legs. While these feelings are totally normal, severe performance anxiety can sabotage your ability to play effectively. Fortunately, there are a number of tricks you can employ to keep your pre-game jitters under control.

1. Develop a Game Day Routine

According to NBA Strategic Skills Coach Drew Hanlan, developing a consistent game day routine is one of the best ways to combat pre-game jitters. Hanlan recommends coming up with a detailed hour-by-hour plan for everything you will do leading up to the game and replicating it throughout the season. Of course, you can make adjustments to your routine as you discover which elements are working and which ones aren’t. Having a ritual cuts down on nerves because players can just follow their schedule and trust the process. A good game day routine should include:

  • Waking up at a reasonable hour
  • Eating a healthy breakfast
  • Stretching
  • Having an energy-packed meal 1 – 3 hours before game time
  • Arriving early to the venue to warm up

2. Engage in Positive VisualizationTeenage girls playing volleyball.

Worrying about making mistakes is often a big component of pre-game jitters. Players sometimes find themselves imaging scenarios where they drop the ball (both figuratively and literally) at crucial moments during the game. Instead of focusing on these negative thoughts, athletes should engage in positive visualization. In the hours before the game, picture yourself scoring goals, making key plays, and successfully fulfilling your role on the team.

A great way to supplement this positive visualization is by actually doing these actions during your pre-game warm up. Try to show up as early as possible to the court or field that you will be playing on and start taking the shots that you hope to make during the game. This on-site practice will make you feel more comfortable and confident when the game begins.

3. Calm Yourself Down with Deep Breathing

If your heart is racing before the big game, this means that you are not breathing correctly. Clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Fraser recommends performing the following breathing exercise to bring your heart rate under control:

  • Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
  • Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel calm.

A young athlete listening to music in the gym.4. Listen to Music

Enjoying your favorite songs is another excellent way to center yourself before game time. LeBron James is a big fan of listening to music prior to taking the court, telling ESPN Magazine, “I know where I want to be before each game, and the music is how I get there. I allow myself to feel the music and get lost in my preparation.”

5. Don’t Interpret Nervous Feelings as a Bad Thing

Even when you follow all of the tips detailed above, you may still feel the physiological effects of nervousness, a sense that you have “butterflies in your stomach.” Rather than viewing these feelings as interference, you should consider them to be part and parcel of the athletic experience. As mental toughness trainer Craig Sigl points out, these feelings show that you care deeply about the game and really want to win. While you can’t always control how you feel on a physical level, you can control how you interpret these feelings.

About Rocky Top Sports WorldA field with views of the mountains at Rocky Top Sports World.

Located minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg, TN, Rocky Top Sports World is one of the best tournament destinations in the U.S. With seven fields, six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, team rooms, and an onsite grill, our 80-acre athletic campus has everything you need for an incredible sports event. To see a complete list of our upcoming tournaments, browse the Rocky Top Sports World Events Calendar!