The Role of Emotion in a Basketball Player’s Potential

I recently read Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf. This quote put the ‘one day at a time’ slogan in more eloquent terms:

“Think about your warrior dial from one to ten. One is ultra stealth mode, and barely moving. Ten is a super-hyped kamikaze screaming…Your best shooting will happen around a four or a five. If your dial is too high, you are more likely to shoot inaccurately. Many of your teams in the west would benefit from turning their dial down before the ‘BIG’ games and turning it up before the ‘smaller’ games.”

Medcalf is actually writing about archery in the quote, but it is still applicable to basketball. It is especially true in the opening moments of a game when players have gone through the warm up routine and done their 12-step secret handshakes. It often leads teams down a path of not playing to their potential.

When Emotions are Too High

Earlier this fall I spoke to Brooks High School coach John McVeigh about emotions as they pertain to timeouts. He declared that there were places for individuals to vary emotions, but late in a close game is a time to remain calm. If anything, the players care too much in these moments and need a reminder that their training has prepared them.

Performance coach Jason Selk advocates that players go through a 6-2-7 routine. He invites athletes to breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and breathe out for 7 seconds to get the heart at a normal level when the pressure intensifies. The research that he has looked at indicates that performance is best at a normal heart rate.

It might seem like a contradiction, but during rivalry and high-stakes games, coaches are better served not putting too much into the psyche of players in the preparation. Players are usually well aware of what is on the line, and coaches are more often wasting time hyping a situation that does not need more attention.

When Emotions Are too Low

Players and coaches can also lose as a result of overconfidence. When emotions are too low and a challenge is not readily apparent, teams are susceptible to underperformance. Regardless of the result of the game, the team is missing an opportunity to play to its potential and be better in the practices leading up to a game with “little meaning.”

We are not robots. Even the meticulously process-driven John Wooden would circle what games he believed UCLA would win and lose before the season. Players often do the same exercise in the pre-season. Therefore it is the coaches job to reflect and forecast the potential reasons for how the game could be different than the original expectation. And when teams across their perceived “routine” games, they are treated the same way a playoff game would be.

The author of the quote, Joshua Medcalf, would not recommend an exercise whereby the coach discusses negative results. Medcalf is an extreme believer in trusting the process and preparation, but young players are not. Our society and culture is results-oriented. Even if the outcome in these games is positive, coaches can stress in the locker room afterward where the process can grow. Sometimes teams play their best in losses and their worst in wins because of the effort gap required to be competitive in each situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *