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How to Calm Nerves Before a Game: 12 Tips to Beat Anxiety

Posted by Jordan Snider on Oct 2, 2023 1:38:03 PM

Sports are a fantastic activity for kids—their benefits have been well-documented, from improving physical fitness to better academic performance.

However, at the root of sporting activities is competition. 

While it’s important to remember to always have fun with sports, in most cases, you are going for a win. Sometimes, the stakes are higher than others. For example, competing for the championship in basketball or a must-win tennis match. These high-stakes situations can sometimes lead to nerves.

How To Calm Nerves Before a Game

The question is: How can you calm your nerves before a big game?

We’ve developed 12 tips to help keep calm and avoid nerves. But first, let’s talk about pre-game anxiety nerves and their impact on performance. 

What is Pre-Game Anxiety?

In sports, pre-game anxiety occurs before a big match or a high-stakes event—as we mentioned above.

However, these nerves can manifest in different ways for different people.

For example, it can be as harmless as excessive sweating for some.  On the other hand, others may suffer from pre-game anxiety so severely that it can manifest as trouble breathing or palpitations. 

The Impact of Anxiety on Sports

Regardless of how affected someone is by pre-game anxiety, the truth is that it will always have an impact on their performance. Stress can cause an increased heart rate, tense muscles, and even dizziness. However, some other effects may not come to mind immediately. 

Here are some examples of how anxiety can affect sports performance.

  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of focus
  • Entering panic or “fight or flight” mode
  • Excessive worrying

At worst, it could cause an athlete to faint or to be sick—completely removing them from the game. Because of the incredibly adverse effects of nerves on athletes before sporting events, it’s all the more important to learn how to be in control of them.

How to Get Rid of Nerves Before a Game

Let’s tackle those nerves and learn how to stay calm before a big game—here are our 12 tips.

1. Breathing Exercises

One of the most common symptoms of pre-game anxiety is breathing troubles. By performing breathing exercises, you can fight pre-game anxiety, learn to control your breathing and perform the way you need to. Even for those who don’t suffer from extreme pre-game anxiety, breathing exercises can help you refocus on the task.

Some examples of breathing exercises include:

  • Lengthening the exhale - This is all about slowing down your breathing. After you take a deep breath in, try to exhale as slowly as possible. Repeat this for as long as needed—at least two minutes.
  • Equal breathing - This practice will help you be more conscious of your breathing. To start, you’ll count the number of seconds it takes to inhale and then exhale for the same amount of time. 
  • Abdomen breathing - Breathing from the diaphragm can take some practice, but once you master it, it can help you manage pre-game nerves. The trick is to feel your stomach muscles contract and watch your stomach rise instead of your chest. Taking deep breaths using abdomen breathing is a great option to deal with anxiety. 

2. Develop a Game-Day Routine

Routines are all about creating stability—they eliminate the need to spend too much time thinking about what you need to do. Before a big game, if you’re constantly worried about what comes before, that can cause some anxiety stemming from being unprepared. 

Game-day routines don’t need to be complicated. For example, you could go to bed early the night before, eat the same meal before your game, listen to the same song as a motivator, and develop a pre-game stretching routine.

A game-day routine as simple as this can help you feel in control of your pre-game anxiety and perform the way you need to.

3. Visualizations

Using visualizations to combat anxiety is a common practice—luckily, it can work just as well to help with pre-game jitters and nerves, too.  The trick is to picture yourself having success. Imagine every aspect of your game, such as the plays you make, finding success. Picture yourself victorious at the end of the game. 

Not only can this help you quell your anxiety, but it can also help you perform your best in the game! 

4. Listen to Music

Did you know that music has a positive effect on stress and anxiety? If you suffer from pre-game nerves, putting on some of your favorite tunes is a fantastic way to get into the zone and avoid pressure. Not to mention, it’s fun.

We recommend creating a playlist of your favorite songs to get pumped up before a game. It can also be a part of your pre-game routine. It doesn’t hurt to blast some music and put yourself in a great mood before the big game! 

5. Be Comfortable With the Idea of Failure

As much as we all hate to fail, it’s a natural part of life. No one is victorious 100% of the time.  In fact, failure can often be a stepping stone to success. For many successful people, failure allows them to reflect, learn from their mistakes, and come out swinging the next time around.

Pre-game nerves often come from a fear of failure or letting others down. It’s important to remember that although winning the big game is great, it’s okay if you come up short. Think of it as an opportunity to learn and motivation to try even harder next time! 

6. Don’t Dwell on What You Can’t Control

Unfortunately, in all aspects of life, there are so many elements that you can’t control. 

When it comes to sports, one of the best examples is your opponent. Maybe they have an otherworldly performance that is simply beyond what your team can muster. 

These things happen—and it’s important not to let things you can’t control stress you out!

Instead, focus on what you can control. For example, being as prepared as you can for the moment (something we’ll get into shortly!).

7. Avoid Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk is never a good idea.

Essentially the opposite of positive visualizations, negative self-talk will manifest bad thoughts and make your pre-game nerves or anxiety even worse than it already was. 

Instead, practice the opposite—positive affirmations can help you perform your best, clear your head, and fight back against nervousness or pre-game anxiety. 

8. Be Prepared

Let’s set the record straight: The best way to perform great in any game is to be as prepared as possible.

No matter the sport, it’s important to practice. Run through some of your favorite drills, be present and ready to learn at organized practices, and ask your coaches for help when needed. 

It’s the same idea as being prepared for a test. Nothing beats the feeling of being as well-prepared as possible, and it’ll help you combat anxiety when the big game arrives. 

9. Get Enough Sleep

There’s no getting around the fact that a lack of sleep can directly affect your anxiety levels

Before a big game, if you want to avoid pre-game nerves and anxiety, get at least seven hours of sleep the night before. It will help you avoid the symptoms of pre-game anxiety and ensure that you’re in top physical shape and able to perform your best. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep!

10. Let Go of Mistakes

Dwelling on mistakes won’t get you anywhere when you’re playing sports. If you had a bad game last time, don’t worry about it—remember that everyone has bad days. The past is the past, and it’s all about here and now. 

When you dwell on past mistakes, all that happens is that you’ll make yourself even more anxious than before. Instead, focus on the upcoming game, learning from your mistakes and finding success!

11. Don’t Be Afraid of Nerves

If you’re experiencing severe anxiety before a game with shortness of breath or any other serious symptoms, those might be a cause for concern. However, some nerves are normal before a big game. Anytime we’re about to participate in an important event, some nervousness can be expected. 


In fact, a little nervousness can actually help you perform better!

12. Have Fun!

Remember: Sports are all about having fun!

Sure, there’s always a level of competition involved. But the most crucial part is that you’re doing something you love. When taken too seriously, it’s easy to forget why you enjoy playing the sport in the first place. 

Fight Pre-Game Anxiety and Nerves With Our 12 Tips

With these 12 tips, you’ll be well on your way to avoiding pre-game anxiety and performing your best with no distractions.

Get out on the field, court, or wherever you’re playing, and have fun!


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