In Mental Training by Brock Bourgase

Pressure basketball has succeeded at almost every level (we all remember Rick Pitino’s failed transition to the Association in 1997) for a number of good reasons. Dialing up the intensity increases the sport’s difficulty and certain teams play much better at faster tempos, for starters.

Naturally, teams troubled by pressure can always practice. Talent is the single biggest factor for winning games (the reason Pitino’s Celtics floundered was because they did not win the 1997 lotttery) and passing, dribbling, cutting, and other skills can always be improved. Scoring also reverses the pressure by curtailing the opponent’s fast break; scoring is highly dependant on talent and mental training.

But the biggest improvements must concern mental training. First of all, teams must possess the capabilities to “slow it down”: see openings before they occur, understand what is happening, deconstruct the play into a collection of manageable actions, and take initiative to attack the opponent rather than watching the full-court pressure from afar. Intelligence is the great equalizer in all fields.

Fear of failure raises individual tension levels. The worst outcome from a single bad pass is a turnover and two (rarely three in transition) points. The worst outcome from a single loss is disappointment until the next opportunity to prove yourself. Basketball is not the be all and end but merely the beginning of it all.

People still take the sport too seriously. I actually agree with Bobby Petrino’s decision. His position with the Atlanta Falcons was horrible: the team’s best player was jailed for two years, players would argue with him on the sidelines, and the other thing worse than their current season was what the future held. For his own sake and making the most of himself, he made the right choice to move to Arkansas. Certainly, loyalty and commitment were compromised but nobody should put excessive stress on themselves until they become Randy Walker or Skip Prosser. Perhaps I am wearing rose-tinted glasses.

If a team plays for self-actualization, the final score is irrelevant. Players can still set new personal bests despite losing — although this becomes frustrating if repeated over time. A basketball game is just two hours in length; control what you can and execute as well as possible. Players are in total control of their own excellence. The past is the past; don’t let mistakes compound into disaster.

Players’ health is also paramount, whether on the Association hardwood or the world’s pick-up courts, and it is never justified to give anyone the Mardy Collins at any level. Coaches are under excessive pressure and this adversely affects players, from seizing up at critical situation or creating a situation where flagrant fouls (among other inappropriate actions) are acceptable.

As Tim Duncan said about Isiah Thomas:

“It’s a bad situation when a coach puts himself in that position and goes after a player. It’s very uncalled for. I don’t know what his intentions were with that and we have bigger plans than trying to hurt somebody. I would hope that people would understand and respect that and obviously they don’t.”
– Tim Duncan

The San Antonio Spurs play at a different level than the New York Knicks. The goal is to get to that level. As Irv Blitzer taught the world in Cool Runnings: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”

So relax, keep it real, and handle all basketball situations with peace of minds that comes from the self-satisfaction of knowing you did your best to be the best you are capable of becoming. Personal and team success comprise the big picture.