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Real Stories From Real Cases: Confidence On the Basketball Court

This month we’re taking you behind the scenes and showing you the ins and outs of mental training with some real cases from me, Emily!


As you follow along, you might find that you relate to what some of these athletes were going through, or that you could use some of the strategies we discuss. Hopefully, these cases give you some insight into how mental training can help you.


Last week we featured a wrestler working on enhancing his consistency with pre- and post-match routines. Make sure you check it out!


Here’s what still coming up:

  • Case 4: A swimmer discovering how to use imagery in a way that works for her


Case 3: Internalizing Confidence on the Basketball Court


This basketball player – lets call her Laura – came to me after her coach pulled her from the starting lineup. A junior in high school and a very talented athlete, Laura was accustomed to being a starter. In fact, she’d started every game her sophomore season, and most of the games for the first half of her current season. Laura’s spot was now in question, though, because her play had become inconsistent.


Once the confident, go-to point guard, she found herself making unforced turnovers and silly mistakes during games. As a point guard, her mistakes sometimes led to breakaways for the other team. She’d get in her own head, thinking about the last mistake she made and worrying about making even more.


Laura’s coach started to get on her about the uncharacteristic turnovers, and her overall performance on the court, which had become more and more tentative. Eventually, her coach told her he was changing things up, taking away her starting spot to give another player a chance to make an impact in the court.


Our first session was an hour-long one-on-one session in my office. By the end of our session, this was my analysis:

  • Laura was in a bit of a mental funk and was failing to stay focused on the present

  • She was very talented and accustomed to being a go-to player that teammates could trust under pressure

  • She didn’t know how to deal with underperforming

  • She saw the loss of her starting spot as a clear sign she wasn’t good enough anymore

  • She was still motivated to try to get back on track, but was very discouraged


So, what to learn from this first session? Laura’s situation was certainly not unique. As frustrating, confusing, and discouraging as it can be to be that player who just can’t figure things out, there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Often the problem stems from some mix of issues with attentional focus and confidence. Athletes make a mistake, then find themselves replaying it in their minds, or worrying about making another, rather than being in the present moment. This leads to more mistakes – and all of this is a big hit to confidence.


When I asked Laura about her biggest sources of confidence, she paused, thought about it, and said:

            Positive reinforcement from coaches and teammates


While that’s certainly a big source of confidence for many athletes, it’s troublesome if it’s the only one. Why? Because it’s not within the athlete’s control. On any given day, we can’t make our coach or teammates pay attention to us and say all the right things. We can’t control what they say – or don’t say. So, it’s important to be able to internalize confidence. Confidence is most stable and consistent when athletes have control over their sources of confidence.


For example, sources of confidence you can control include:

  • Your training and preparation: knowing you put in the work to get the job done

  • Your past successes: reflecting on some of your best plays or games

  • Mastering new skills: demonstrating to yourself that you can keep improving and that you’ve learned the skills you need to succeed 


With this overarching theme of confidence in mind, this is how our sessions progressed over the next few weeks:

  • Laura started completing objective evaluations after practices and games, reflecting on what went well, what needed improvement, and her plan to improve.

  • Together we developed a pre-game routine to help Laura be deliberate with her pre-game focus and confidence.

    • This included focusing on the specific tasks she needed to do to play her role when she got her chance to play, taking time to replay her highlights from past games in her mind, and using self-talk that made her feel confident and composed

  • She started writing down two things she did well/made her confident after each practice and game, no matter how tough it was.

My work with Laura was brief. We only had a few sessions together, but it was enough to give her some strategies and a framework to use to deliberately train her mental game and get back on track.



Stay tuned for next week when we discuss a high school swimmer learning how to use imagery to manage nerves before competition.

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