How to Mentally Prepare For Playing Rivals
Being from Durham, or North Carolina in general, you take part in the famous Duke-UNC rivalry. Coach K was my neighbor while growing up in Durham, so obviously I was a Blue Devil.
In February 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend the Duke-UNC game at the Dean Dome.
It wasn’t looking good for Duke throughout most of the game, and Carolina was leading by 10 with 2 ½ minutes remaining in their domain.
Duke began to chip away the lead and trailed by 2 in the final seconds.
Austin Rivers, a freshman at the time released a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds to go. Rivers sunk the shot as time expired and Duke won 85-84 in Chapel Hill.
The look of disgust trailed across the UNC crowd as the Duke Gang celebrated their victory… One of the greatest comebacks in one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.
Playing a crosstown rival, like the 8 miles existing between Duke and Carolina can be stressful.
Players can feel more pressure to perform well and win when playing against a rivalry.
Each team wants the bragging rights for the next year.
Added stress when playing a rival opponent:
- Wanting to play well
- Wanting to outplay them
- Wanting to beat them
- Friends and family watching, wanting to impress them
- Heightened emotions with the competitive environment
- Wanting to please the fans
- Not wanting to let your team/coach/program down
- Concern with how you and your team will play
- Worried what others will think/say if you lose
- Gaining revenge
When playing at Peace College, we had a crosstown rival, Meredith College. Meredith was about 5 miles down the road from us in the downtown Raleigh area.
Each year we faced-off at least twice, and the games were always a battle.
Our records in that season didn’t matter at all. One of us may have been in the top of the conference and the other in the bottom, but it didn’t matter, it was the “championship” game every time.
I remember playing at Meredith my junior year… They had already beaten us earlier in the season at our place, so we felt it was time for absolute revenge.
We were nervous, anxious, and hype all at once. That state where your heart is beating out of your chest, your hands are sweaty, the butterflies are taking over your stomach, and your legs feel shaky.
We wanted to play our best and win so badly, too badly that we lost the first two sets by a score that wasn’t even close.
At intermission, everyone took a deep breath and played a quick game of, “Ninja, Warrior, Bear,” which is just like “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” only more active.
Within those five minutes, we were able to relax, slightly bringing down the pressure we felt. We returned to the court and won the next three matches, beating them 3-2 in their house.
Play the game not the hoopla of the occasion.
The pressure and intensity added to a crosstown rival game can hurt a team’s ability to perform.
Pressure and intensity can be a good thing, as long as it’s controlled.
To help your team reach a peak performance state, use a pregame routine that get loose and mentally prepared for the game…
One of my favorite games to feel calm is Rock, Paper, Scissors right before the first set starts.
A fun, competitive activity can help take the edge off right before a big rivalry game.
If you or your team needs help improving mental toughness, check out our mental coaching programs:
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