Playing nervous

A couple days ago, I played in a championship game for one of my leagues. It was a big game for us, since we’ve been to the championship two times before, and we have never been able to take home the chip. Going through the layup lines, all of us felt an extra sense of urgency, stamina, and seriousness to play well and finally win something bigger than ourselves and our team. Teams shook hands, found our spots on midcourt, and the ball went up for the tip.

The game was awful. The final score was 35-25, the lowest score our team has ever put up in the season. Unfortunately, we were on the losing end, not being able to pull out the win yet again. I’ve been here before, and every time the feeling is the same. You play nervous, anxious, and out of your element. It ultimately leads to a situation where you stop taking risks and think about all your moves before you even make them.

You forget the basics. How to play proper defense, how to dribble the ball, everything. Maybe it’s because we are not clutch when it counts, but simple things like dribbling the ball seem like the hardest thing when you are playing nervous and trying to not fuck up a play.

Each turnover gets magnified. Of course, in any game, turnovers are bad but in a championship game, your head hangs a little lower when you or a teammate turns the ball over. You get a little more frustrated which ultimately leads to more turnovers. Vicious cycle.

Someone else will be Superman. You have written yourself as not being able to contribute, as much as you want to. You can’t score, you play terrible defense, and all you can do is sit on the bench and watch. There is a tiny hope that someone else on the team will pick up the slack. You’re “go-to guy” who normally comes through in the clutch is also locked up. With no one to go to, you constantly hope someone will start scoring even though deep down you know there isn’t a player on the team that can break out on a run.

Losing is one thing, but to experience the loss with anxiousness and nervousness magnifies the loss even more. The next day all I could think about was the loss and what things I did wrong. I hate when these games take a toll on my mental well-being at work, but I can’t help it. Luckily Thanksgiving was around the corner and I stuffed my face to bandage the wounds.

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No more turnovers

A couple weeks ago, I played in a double header. I had one game at 1:30, and another one at 3, both on the upper west side. Sundays are always tough days to play because after going out Saturday night, the last thing you wanna do is physical activity the next day. Nevertheless, once I lace up the shoes and throw on the jersey, I kind of forget about the lack of sleep and it’s on.

The first game our team got blown out, I mean it was sad. They were pretty fast and we were not making our shots, and I think we ended up losing by 30+ points. The most demoralizing thing to your opponent (which one of my teammates pointed out) is making shots, and boy did they. It felt like everyone was making 3s, and I stopped boxing out since I knew they just had it. The 2nd most demoralizing aspect of the game: turnovers. It’s one of those things you can’t teach, aside from the simple repetition of “take care of the ball.” The second game I had 6-8 turnovers, leading the entire team. After this debacle of a doubleheader, the sobering subway ride home and lonely walk up the  narrow hallways of my apartment building led me to a few epiphanies about committing turnovers during a game.

  • Indecisiveness. I believe this is a characteristic of basketball in general since you’re constantly making quick decisions, but indecisiveness can lead you to not pass the ball with confidence and ultimately results in a high probability of a turnover.  The most common mindset I find myself in is when I get passed the ball, and I don’t know what to do with it and end up looking for a teammate to bail me out in a sense. Once I got the ball, however, the play was already over. My mind wasn’t there, and I’m already looking to pass the rock. Where to pass? Who to pass to? These questions should not be running through your mind, but they ran through my mind during both of these games and led me to turnover after turnover.
  • Holding the ball firmly. One of my teammates talked about this after our loss at the second game, and it made so much sense to me that I had to write it down. You’ve got muscle, you’ve got hands, hold onto that ball like you’re fucking life depended on it. Get into the 3-point stance and hold the ball with elbows stretched out. The firm grip gives you a sense of confidence and aggression will lead you to pass more effectively and commit less turnovers.
  • See ball see man. This usually applies to defense in keeping an eye on both the ball and your man, but it applies to when you have the ball as well. Many times I have the ball, and think my teammate is in a position to receive a pass, but he’s still battling for position or isn’t looking  himself. I’m not a true point guard but this is one of those lessons I am struggling with the most since I don’t normally have that bird’s-eye-view of the court from the PG’s perspective. You have the ball, you know where you are taking it, but the last final step before the pass is made is seeing your teammate who you are passing to. I’m not saying it’s like locking eyes and nodding to make sure he’s ready, but there’s an awareness that needs to be perceived, and it might just be a relationship between the two guys to know each other’s game.