“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” - Vince Lombardi
A lifetime ago I was playing (Temporary Additional Duty) in a Navy softball tournament at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. We had won a couple of games and had advanced to face better competition. While leading, I felt palpable fear from teammates around me, as they started to misplay routine plays. As Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” We lost the game, but the team lost something more that day.
How do you become fearless? What does that even mean?
Basketball isn't a contact sport; it's a collision sport. Not everyone embraces contact, but contact embraces everyone. Setting screens, getting screened, blocking out, taking charges, and scrapping for loose balls are just normal play.
I call them 'thunder screens' because you don't see anything, just feel the thunder.
Fear isn't always physical. Sure, players bail on layups, avoid charges, or don't dive after loose balls. Others don't engage because they don't want the ball, "hot potato" pass to avoid pressure, travel and fumble, pass up open shots, and worry about failing rather than focus on executing.
Players fear loss of status, loss of minutes, and loss of respect from coaches and teammates.
- Overcoming fear takes multiple paths.
- Superior conditioning and athletic training builds a resilient body.
- Improving skills grows confidence. That demands time and work.
- Studying the game slows the action down. Watching and studying are different.
- Psychological resilience has other routes including mindfulness, positive imaging, and self-talk.
- Positive coaching makes a difference. We all see players who succeed with a different culture and different support system ("change of scenery"). Leaving your comfort zone (deliberate practice) is critical to training success, but finding a comfort zone succeeds during play.
Overcoming fear isn't an action; it's a process.
Spencer Vickery shares this advice, "Task orientated performers are taught by coaches and parents that success is going out and giving 100% effort for the whole game or on every shot, they are told that working hard with high levels of quality, and being the best that they can possibly be is being successful. Leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of development and learning of ways to improve is what players who are free from fears and anxieties focus on. Parents who promote task orientation in their children ask questions such as “Did you have fun today”, “Did you enjoy it?”, “Did you try your hardest” and “What did you learn?”
- Jon Bon Jovi, in Just Older
Doing your best, not necessarily becoming the best, informs success and mitigates fear.