Think about the times when you played the best game of your life, then the next game you couldn’t make a shot to save your life. Was it because you suddenly lost your ability to shoot overnight? Probably not. The mental aspect plays such an important part of an athlete’s performance. But it’s so difficult for many athletes to improve their mental conditioning. It’s much easier for a basketball player to shoot hundreds of shots a day when their jumper is “off” and hope they find their stroke sooner rather than later. I’m not opposed to shooting extra shots to get your stroke back, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. Another huge piece of the puzzle is mental conditioning. Think of it the same way as you physically condition your body, except you are conditioning your mind.
Although we can’t control results, we can control how we mentally prepare for situations. The more we rehearse those ideal situations, the more they become ingrained in our mind.
Instead of relying ONLY on the “extra shots” method to find your stroke, here is mental strategy to experiment with…visualization.
Without getting into the details of the neuro-science, visualization allows our brain to instinctively respond in situations, rather than resorting to old habits which we do not want.
Practicing visualization can activate the same neural connections in our brain as if we were physically doing the exercise. The beauty of visualization is that we can actually control whether we make a shot, because it’s in our mind. Consistent practice of visualization can strengthen those pathways with the objective of making the desired actions a habit (moving the action from our “working brain” – the prefrontal cortex – to our “habit center” – the basal ganglia).
Warning: if you haven’t tried visualization before, you are probably thinking that it’s pretty easy. It’s not! Visualization takes lots of practice to be able to sit down for 15 minutes and rehearse game-like situations as if you are really in the game. Your mind will want to drift off, this is normal. Just like anything it takes lots of practice and consistency. For high school and college players that travel a lot to games, the flights or bus rides are a great time to practice some visualization.
To get started with visualization choose a shot that you shoot the most during your games. For example, you may choose a play where you get a pin down screen and curl off for a jumper at the elbow. Try to make this shot 20 times in your mind. Remember to do things exactly how you would do them in the game (i.e. setup your defender before the screen, run should-to-shoulder off the screen, stay low as you catch the ball and go straight up into your shot).
For a great resource on mental training you should check out the site by Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert at t2bc.com (Train2BClutch.com).