5 Psychological factors that influence your performance on the basketball court

As a basketball player especially at the high level there’s plenty of pressures not only from playing the sport but other external personal life pressures. All these factors influence performance on the basketball court. In college I worked with a sport psychologist that identified the below psychological factors as the most important.

1. Awareness of yourself

  • How do you feel emotionally when you are at training or games?
  • How do you feel when you are on court?
  • How do you feel physically?

In my article What is your morning routine I mention the massive benefits to having a good morning routine. “Wake up because you want to not because you have to”. The miracle morning that I discuss in this article is to better understand yourself and calm your mind. That’s why I suggest meditation in the morning!

In basketball being aware of yourself is the start of working out how to improve yourself on court. Being aware of what your weaknesses are allows you to work on them and improve, after all your weaknesses in basketball will be exposed with stats and video. Your opposition will study you and find weaknesses in your game to exploit you. Knowing what your strengths are also allows you to be aware of how you can contribute to the team. Particularly if you are aware of your strengths and how to use them in an offence.

How do you feel physically?

Being aware of yourself is not limited to performance but also physically. It is important to know your body. There will be certain exercises to help aide improvement on court that your body won’t agree with. It is important to know what exercise will hurt you and also if you are hurt be aware of situations or exercises that may exacerbate the injury.

How do you feel emotionally when you are at training or games?

How do you feel emotionally? Lack of confidence, stress and external pressure can affect your performance. More than anything discussed above a strong mind is the most important thing to have. Mental strength is basketball is commonly referred to as clutch. In high pressure situations do you have the belief that you can perform?

Awareness of oneself is important as a basketball player because you have to first recognize that there’s a problem before you can attempt to fix it.

2. Technique

  • Do you work on your shooting technique?
  • How do you work on your shooting technique?
  • What do you do to work on your defense?
  • How much time do you spend on working on various techniques on court?

Playing basketball at a high level isn’t about getting to a basketball court and playing scratch matches. You can improve only so much doing that. You need to work on your technique. Working on technique helps develop muscle memory. How else do you thing Michael Jordan shot a free throw with his eyes closed? Or more recently Steph Curry shooting a 3 point shot on 3 people with his eyes closed to win the game? Constant work on technique develops muscle memory which in turn enables your body to move on instinct rather than robotic movements.

3. Goals

  • What are your short term goals?
  • What are your long term goals?
  • Are you constantly referring to your goals and tracking progress?

If two soccer teams played each other without soccer goals how do you determine which team won? If you don’t have a goal how do you expect to score? Without goals as a basketball player you are doomed to failure.

Everyone needs a sense of purpose, a way of staying on the right part. Setting short term goals allows you to work toward your major goals. For example, if your big goal was to play college basketball your smaller goals would be to:

  • Put 3 inches on your vertical in 6 months
  • Shooting 80% from the free throw line in 8 months
  • Improving your rebounding from 6rpg to 10rpg by 12 months

Remember, goals should easily be tracked and measurable. Having a goal of “improving my jump shot” is not good enough. How can you measure success if it isn’t defined?

4. Visualization

  • Do you visualise shooting the game winning shot?
  • Do you think about what you would do if you were 6 points down with a minute to go?
  • Do you picture yourself diving for loose balls?

I remember doing visualisation with my sport physiologist when I played for Solano Falcons. I remember going through games situations visualising myself playing a game in my head. It was insane! For most of these visualisation sessions I was sweating almost as much as I would when I was on court. The reason why our sport psychologist ran these sessions was to trigger muscle activity by mental practice.

Visualisation also enables you to imagine certain negative situation on court and enables you do deal with them. One of the visualisation scenarios was the team being down by 2 with 10 seconds on the clock. The ball gets in-bounded and we run the play the coach gave us but the person we want to get the ball to is checked by a good defender. Pass can’t be made and I have the ball. What do I do? Visualising situations like this helps you feel relaxed and mentally sharp when they actually do become reality.

Visualization gets you focused come game time, relaxes you when you are on court and gives you confidence during high pressure situations.

5. Confidence

  • Do you believe in your skill?
  • Do you hesitate to take the open shot?
  • Does nerves before and during the game make you freeze?

For most of my basketball career I suffered from low confidence. I had several issues with team mates and coaches that were not the nicest people which really rocked me. Having low confidence really impacts on your game and it can be crippling.

Confidence can be gained by being physically prepared. That means getting in condition and perfecting technique. For example if you work hard at developing an outside shot by putting in hours of practice on court. Eventually all the hard work will develop to shooting the ball at a high percentage. This will also translate to the game situation, where you will start to feel comfortable shooting the ball.

The easiest way to gain confidence is through positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement can from others such as coaches telling you are doing a good job or through getting awards such as medals and trophies.

Confidence in myself when I switched sports to soccer

In my first season of soccer I was given the most improved player award. Up until I got this award whenever the ball was passed to me I looked to pass the ball off to the closest team mate. I didn’t want the ball! I had no confidence holding it and dribbling it. The season after I was awarded the most improved award my confidence grew. I held the ball dribbled it and made a massive contribution to my team.

The most useful way of gaining confidence is to talk to yourself. Motivate yourself with positive talk such as “I got this”, “I can do this” and really believe it. Get on YouTube and have a look at the positive talk power lifters give to themselves before a heavy set.

What is it that you need to implement in your game? All of the 5 psychological factors or just a few of them. My task for you is to start with the one you think you need to consider/ improve the most and discuss in the comments area below what you are going to do to improve?

Thanks for reading and looking forward to your comments!

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