8 Tips to Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure From NBA Finals Pros

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Every athlete feels it. It could be little flutters in your stomach. It could be a slight weakness in your legs. It could even be tightness in your chest. You try to ignore it. You try to block it out, but it’s there and it won’t go away. It’s not a heart attack, but it might feel like one. It’s not food poisoning, though at least that would pass soon. No, that tension gripping your muscles and your mind is one thing and one thing only: pressure. Some guys can handle it and some can’t.

Tonight, the best athletes on the planet are facing off in Miami to determine the NBA Championship. For the Heat and LeBron James, one more win brings the first of many promised titles to South Beach. For the Thunder and Kevin Durant, one loss and their quest for a title ends abruptly on Biscayne Boulevard. Both teams know what’s at stake. They know the whole world is watching. Under the brightest lights, on the biggest stage, here’s how the superstars of the NBA Finals deal with the pressure to perform.

Avoid Overload by Giving Your Mind a Break – LeBron James, F, Miami Heat

When you’ve been building towards an important moment in your life, be it in your career or in competition, it’s only natural to begin obsessing over the outcome. Don’t. Your mind needs to be clear for you to perform your best and one way to do that is to give it some time off from the stress of reaching your goal. LeBron James, who is arguably feeling the most pressure of anyone in these NBA Finals, has found a unique way to let his mind relax; he reads books, lots of them (including the Hunger Games trilogy, apparently). And here’s his reason why:

“It just slows my mind down. It gives me another outlet. Throughout the playoffs, all you think about is basketball.  All you want to do is play basketball. But at the same time it can become a lot. It can come to a point where it’s overloading to the mind and you think about it too much. It’s hard to get away from it because you’re playing every other day, you talk about it every single day, you prepare every single day. The reading has given me an opportunity for those couple of hours of the day or those 20, 25 minutes before the game, it just gives me an opportunity to read and think about something else. It’s made me comfortable. I’m not saying it’s the trick. It’s just something that I decided to do at the beginning of the postseason and it’s worked for me.”

Let it Fly – Shane Battier, F, Miami Heat

Pressure situations can cause you to pull back for fear of making a mistake. More often than not, that hesitation will end up causing a mistake. If you trust that you’ve put in the time and the dedication and you believe in the plan that you’ve followed, hold nothing back in the big moment. This is exactly Shane Battier’s philosophy about performing in the playoffs:

“When you put your heart and your soul into preparation and in the games and you let it fly, you can always live with the results. I believe that. It’s something that Coach K (Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski) talked about. It’s not about accolades, it’s not about your resume, it really isn’t. It’s about throwing yourself into a situation and doing your best. If you can do that you can live with any result or consequence.”

Dwyane Wade

Keep an Even Keel and Stay in the Moment – Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat

Along your journey towards whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you’re likely to have minor successes and setbacks. If you’re in a triathlon and enter a stage below the pace you’d like to keep, you can’t get upset or it could sabotage your whole race. Likewise, if you’re well ahead of the pace you want, you can’t get too carried away from your game plan or you could burn out. When it comes to dealing with the ups and downs of a playoff run and the NBA Finals in particular, Dwyane Wade explains the Heat’s strategy for steadiness:

“For this team, I think we understand that the moment is the biggest thing. It’s cliché and we might say certain things a lot, but it’s even keel around here. We never get too high, we never get too low. We try to always stay in our moment.”

Maintain Focus, Learn from Experience – Erik Spoelstra, Head Coach, Miami Heat

When preparing for a big competition, many people will start trying to look for any small edge to boost performance. It might be a new energy bar, it might be something to help them sleep the night before, or it might be a new warm-up. If you’ve been practicing a certain way to get ready for a competition, don’t panic and make changes to your routine in the last minute. When asked how tough it is to keep the same approach with his team heading into what may be their championship-winning game, here’s what Coach Spoelstra had to say:

“If you start changing the routine and now start making it about the result other than focusing on the process of the next 24 hours, it’s going to be another battle… You’ve got to absolutely immerse yourself into the process and the focus. It’s Game 5. We want to treat it as a Game 7. But we are preparing for Game 5 to protect our home court and to take care of business. It’s been well documented the experience we went through last year and the pain and all that. It doesn’t guarantee you anything. Experience is a great teacher. You know, hopefully all those experiences will help us.”

Chris Bosh

Exude Confidence – Mario Chalmers, G, Miami Heat

You’d be hard pressed to find even a casual sports fan who doesn’t know about the “Big Three” stars on the Miami Heat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh), but these NBA Finals have seen some other players step up in the most crucial moments. For the Heat, point guard Mario Chalmers has used his unshakeable confidence to come up huge in some of the series’ biggest spots. With so many stars on the team, here’s how Chalmers explains how he has the confidence to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line:

“My confidence is never shaken. I’m always ready to go, any time, any place. A lot of people said I wouldn’t make it [to the NBA] and that’s been my motivation my whole life. Now I’m here and I don’t want to have any regrets.”

When Dwyane Wade was asked to comment on Mario’s belief in himself, he had this to say:

“Mario is a special breed in the sense of, like I joked around yesterday, Mario probably thinks he’s the best player on this team. He probably does. He really thinks that. He has the mentality that, you know, it’s the, quote unquote, Big Three, but I’m here, too.”

Have a Positive Frame of Mind – Chris Bosh, F, Miami Heat

One of the biggest compliments an athlete can be paid is to be described as being clutch. Being clutch is essentially the ability to come through under pressure. Can you hit the game winning shot? Can you get the game ending strikeout? Can you come from behind with a strong kick to win a race? It sounds simple, but the ability to do any of these things starts between your own ears. To Chris Bosh, the ability to have ice water in your veins comes down to one simple thing:

“It’s all what you believe in. It’s only a frame of mind. To step up and make big shots, you have to believe in yourself.”

Kevin Durant

Never Give Up – Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder are facing a playoff elimination game tonight. If they lose, their season is over. The pressure on the Thunder players is palpable, yet sometimes the biggest victories happen just after the moment where defeat looks most likely (See: 2004 Boston Red Sox). In order to turn your fortunes around, you need to put aside the thoughts of defeat and focus on maintaining 100% effort. Kevin Durant’s team is in a big hole, but they still believe in their chances of winning a title this year:

“We didn’t get here [the Finals] just to say that we made it here. We want a title. It’s all about competing until that last buzzer sounds and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s the type of city we play for and that’s the type of team we are. We’re going to keep fighting and fighting and we’ll see what happens.”

If You’re Down, Fight Back One Step at a Time – Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder

Regardless of your goal, you may find yourself so far behind that achieving it seems impossible. Most likely, you won’t be able to make up ground all at once. If you’re down two sets to your buddy in tennis, you can’t win two sets on one serve. You can only win by making one solid shot at a time. This is the same mentality that Kevin Durant has as his team faces the daunting task of winning in Miami tonight:  

“Everyone knows our backs are against the wall. We’re down three to one. We have a chance to try to take the series back to Oklahoma City. We can’t win three games in a row here in Miami. We can’t win the series in just one game. We have to take it a possession at time, a game at a time and go from there. It’s do-or-die and we have to come out and perform.”

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