It’s easier to get tight quicker in a game when you expect to win.
At Rhode Island College we played in eight straight Little East Tournament games, and we won six of them. We were 4-1 as the favorite at home and 2-1 as the underdog on the road. But one thing we never really had to deal with on the road was getting tight. When we played at home, and we knew we were the better team, we had to overcome getting tight a number of times.
It doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glass. Why would you get tight when you know you are the better team? You’d think you’d have the confidence to overcome any nerves. But expectations can lead to tension. And when you get deeper into into a close game you often get into a situation you haven’t been in that often. You are used to being in control, to playing with the lead. You just don’t have as much experience getting punched in the mouth and having to respond.
I know as a head coach I’ve had to fight getting tight in games where we expected to win. Usually if your team starts getting tight, you’ve taken them there. They are following your lead. A great challenge is to keep the tension and nerves that you are feeling away from your team. It starts with being aware of how expectations can affect your approach.
You have to be willing to accept some mistakes. You can’t demand perfection, no matter how good your team is. Find ways to keep things light and break the tension on the bench. Encourage your team to make plays, and give them the freedom to make some mistakes. Smile. Stay composed.
When your team is supposed to win, your players know it too. They feel the pressure. When they start to struggle, they are naturally going to get tight. Stay aware, and make sure you fight it.
It’s so much easier to get tight when you are supposed to win.