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“Big Game Jitters”
By: Rick Lewis
Sports-Prep Nothing But Athletes

I have participated in organized sports: Football, Basketball, Baseball and Track, at a high level of competition for 48 years. I have participated in life for 53 years. I have gotten better and have helped others get better through practice, hard work and experience, “Preparation”. I went to a school where it was a tradition to touch the wall over the doorway that led to the Gym and Fields from our locker room. We touched this wall each time we exited the locker room to prepare for battle or enter into battle. The words on the wall stated: “Excellence at this institution is derived through Blood, Sweat and Tears”. We were not sure how other institution achieved excellence but we were very clear on how excellence was achieved at East St Louis Lincoln High School. By touching this wall we were committing to strive for excellence and pay the price by accepting and doing whatever it took to achieve excellence.
No matter how prepared a person may be in sports or life “Big Game Jitters” always finds a way to creep in. If anyone tells you that they have never had “Big Game Jitters” they are not being truthful or they have never done anything big in there life. For example: Nervous about that job interview, “Big Game Jitters”, Nervous about that math or history test, “Big Game Jitters”, Nervous about your meeting to ask for a raise, “Big Game Jitters”, Nervous about asking the girl of your dreams out on a date, “Big Game Jitters”, a solder heading into battle that is life or death, “Big Game Jitters”, Nervous about playing against your rival team or player, “Big Game Jitters”. “Big Game Jitters” is not just a sports term, it is a life term. “Big Game Jitters” can cause prepared and great people to do uncharacteristic things.

Big: Size, Large, and Important – Game: A form of play, competition, and event – Jitters: A nervous feeling. I have combined the meanings of the individual word and developed a definition for the phrase “Big Game Jitters” – A nervous feeling about a competition or event that is of great importance and has great impact. That nervous feeling can come at any time for any reason; it could be the week before, the night before, an hour before a minute before or anytime during the competition. You may not have it the entire game, get fouled on a buzzer shot, down by 1 and have to shoot 2 foul shots with no time on the clock and get it with no time left on the clock.
“Big Game Jitters” is not to be confused with an off day. The difference between an off day and “Big Game Jitters” is the feeling. You can be off due to lack of focus in your mechanics or technique, laziness or you just don’t care to put forth the effort. “Big Game Jitters” will affect you mentally and cause you not to be able to focus on your mechanics and technique because of the pressure you apply to yourself worrying about the outcome, Winning, Losing or Embarrassment. How do you recognize “Big Game Jitters”? “Big Game Jitters” will throw your timing and rhythm off, cause you to rush or hesitate, doubt or second guess the game plan, instruction and your own ability to perform, pass blame on to other things or players, zap your energy and make a conditioned player gasp for air and look like he is out of shape. All of these elements are vital to successful execution.

To some people every game is a big game. For example, some players are great in practice but will not perform in the game. They know their stuff, have good skills, and are conditioned to perform, but they just can’t shake those jitters.
Another form of “Big Game Jitters” is what I call the “Hero and the Goat” factor. This is recognized when a person wants to be the front runner when things are going great (Hero) but doesn’t want to be the front runner when things are going bad (Scapegoat). The “Hero” takes the credit and the “Goat” takes the blame. Either way you get Press. This is what the critics were on LaBron James about when he first came into the league. LaBron wanted to be the “Hero” in the wins but did not want to take the last shot of the game when his team was losing because if he missed he had to take the blame. If you are the “Man”, be the “Man” all the time. You have to be able to be humble and have a big smile during the good times and have broad enough shoulders to carry the cross during the bad times. When LaBron started taking the last shot, hit or miss, he gained respect from his peers and fans because then he showed signs of being a true leader.

If you are worried about making mistakes, let me just say “You are going to make mistakes”. The game is too fast, competitive and complicated for anyone not to make mistakes. Mistakes are built in to the game with the difficulty factor. A baseball player that averages 3 hits out of 10 at bats for his career will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Making 4.7 shots out of 10 from the field is great for a basketball player. Getting the ball in the hole 18 times out of 67 shots is awesome for a golfer. If the sports or life was easy there would be no great players or great people. Great performances are recognized because of the difficulty and challenging factors of sport and life. Great performances can still have mistakes but great performers don’t worry about making mistakes. The more you worry about making mistakes the more mistakes you will make.

There are also players who worry about making mistakes because they don’t want to be fussed at by the coach or taken out of the game. These players play the game not to make a mistake. The mistake that is being made at this time is that they are not playing the game. This player will be ok if their team is always winning. In the tough, tight games when you need someone to contribute to the winning of the game, this player cannot be used. Coaches are going to fuss, that is what they do. Players must play because that is what they do. Players should not allow the fussing of a coach to hinder their performance. Remember this, the same shot you got fussed at for missing, you would have gotten praise if you would have made. Make the next one! The key here is, continue to “Play On and Play Hard”.

The fact that you have “Big Game Jitters” is not the problem; not admitting to yourself that you have “Big Game Jitters” is the problem. Most people don’t admit it because it is understood to be a sign of weakness. If you don’t admit that you have “Big Game Jitters” then you won’t accept the solution for “Big Game Jitters”, because you don’t need a solution for a problem you don’t have. “Big Game Jitters” is a problem and you will need a solution. By the time you finish reading this you will be able to turn that weakness into strength.

I played competitive baseball for 37 years. After 5 of the 37 year I developed a superstition that if I struck out my first at bat of the season I was going to have a bad season. For 32 years I had this superstition. For 32 years I never struck out my first at bat of the season. At the start of my 32nd season you would think that I wouldn’t have been nervous because I had not struck out my first at bat in the previous 31 season. I should not have had any reason to be nervous. But I was just as nervous in the 32nd season as I was in the 1st season on my first at bat. After my first at bat the nervousness would go away. There is a very important reason why the nervousness would go away after my first at bat, “The Process I used to prepare myself had proven to work once again” and as long as I relied and believed in the process I didn’t need to be nervous anymore that season. When I got nervous I would focus on the process, the mechanics, the techniques, my training, my preparation, because these were and are proven. I was just smart enough to use them. I discovered that results are a by-product of the process used to achieve the results.

When most people are nervous it is because they are focusing on the results; hitting or striking out, making the shot or missing the shot, getting the job or not, winning or losing, embarrassment. When you focus on the result it is a great chance that you will omit very important steps that can render you your desired results. For example, when a short-stop gets a batter out at first base he has to: 1. See the ball off the bat, 2. Move in the direction of the ball, 3. Get to the ball, 4. Get his glove to the ball, 5. Catch the ball, 6. Plant his feet, 7. Get the ball out of the glove, 8. Point his body in the direction he has to throw the ball, 9. Throw the ball to the first baseman in the area of the first baseman’s arm and glove reach. After this point the result is out of the short-stops hands. The first baseman has to: 1. Get to first base, 2. Place his foot on first base, 3. Catch the ball. The out only happens if the above 12 steps, between two people, happen before the batters foot touches first base. Based on the speed of batters these 12 steps have to take place between 2.8 and 3.5 seconds. The out is a by-product of the ability of the players to complete the 12 steps in less than 2.8 seconds. Omit one step in the process and the desired result doesn’t happen. When a person is solving for “X” in an algebraic equation, the instructor pays more attention to the ability of the person to learn the formula of solving for “X”, than the answer. The instructor knows that if you learn the formula the correct answer will happen. The formula is proven and designed to get the correct answer. You are smart by using the formula. The formula is the Process. This brings me to my philosophy of, “The Process is more important than the Answer, because the Process gets the Answer, therefore the Answer is the Process”.

After you have found the process that will render you your desired results, commit to the process (Buy In). Practice that process until that process is the way you do what you do. Become the Process. “Commit to the Script” Trust and believe in your hard work, preparation and commitment. You control your Process you use, your Process will control your Performance and your Performance will control the Results. “Big Time players will make Big Time plays at Big Times”. Don’t allow your performance to be affected by focusing on the results and or negativity. Play the game.

So the next time you get “Big Game Jitters” and you will get them again, Focus on the Process, Stick to the Script, make the Big Time plays at the Big Times and you can rest assured that at the end of the day, you gave your All, and All is All you can do!

RJL 1/27/13