I must admit I was somewhat surprised at some of the comments, quote "professional" unquote, coaches and sports advisors offered in order to deal with the emotional stress of performing in the "Big Game."
Some blamed private tutorage from teachers and sports trainers who were excellent at teaching repetitive drills, but lacked the experience of handling the ill-affects produced by pre-game raging emotions, therefore ignoring the subject.
This was an interesting comment and I'm not disputing the validity of the claim, but the author offered no alternative solution. I've found in my years of coaching, anyone who trashes a coaching action, but offers no other option, normally is lost at what to do to solve the problem. I wish the writer would have expanded on his comment.
Some sang the praise of practicing visualization as a method of handling the ill affects of pre-game jitters and anxiousness. I've had my fair share of teaching visualization and it's extremely important, but tell me how a youngster can visualize something they've never experienced.
Ever hear somebody say they didn't like watching so and so sport on television, big screen or not, but would go to games because the atmosphere and action were so much different. I'm a huge fan of visualization, but it has it's limits and I personally feel this is definitely one of those examples.
I'm in no way trying to discredit or argue with the "professionals" who addressed this blog question, but I'd like to offer a few suggestions and comments of my own on the subject.
Human emotions are designed to help us survive in life, such as the "fight or flight" instinct, and should be harnessed as a God given talent no different than an athlete's foot speed. Having the fastest player on the field is useless if he/she is allowed to run with reckless abandonment with no purpose. The intense energy high emotions provide, properly controlled and applied, will have a positive effect on the athlete and should not be suppressed, only channeled.
(1.) Preparation is the key to stress control and that responsibility falls squarely on the coach's shoulders. It's his job to develop a plan to push his team to the next level through intense repetitive practice, from which the players themselves will realize their skills have improved. This instills confidence, and confidence breeds a calmness of knowing you're up to the task.
(2.) I mentioned I'm a big fan of visualization and here is where I'd apply it. I loved the movie Hoosiers, when Gene Hackman, the basketball coach, took his team to the tournament arena and with a tape measurer, and showed the team the court was identical in size to their school gym.
A baseball coach can apply the same visualization technique with his team by measuring the distance between bases, pitching rubber and etc. etc. Explain to the team as you walk through this exercise that yeah, the stadium will be larger, but that's for the spectators. Their field of battle is exactly the same, in fact probably easier to play on because it's more professionally groomed.
(3.) Lastly, the pre-game instructions, which again falls to the coach. This shouldn't be a rah rah speech, but rather a quiet recap of how they've done everything possible and are prepared for the game. They've proven they are winners by simply achieving being in this game and nobody can ever take that away from them. It's a once in a lifetime experience, go play hard and enjoy it.
3. Mental Focus.
Remember pre-game stress and jitters can destroy a player's focus and the ability to attain peak performance, a matter which requires addressing.