Why LeBron Keeps Coming Up Small

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

[media-credit name="Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao" align="alignleft" width="290"][/media-credit]Another playoff game, another disappointing fourth-quarter performance from LeBron James. The Miami Heat small forward may be basketball’s biggest star, the reigning league MVP, and one of the greatest regular-season players in hoops history. But James has shown time and again that he’s far from his best when the spotlight shines brightest. James scored 30 points during his team’s Tuesday loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But only one of those buckets went down ...

[media-credit name="Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao" align="alignleft" width="290"][/media-credit]Another playoff game, another disappointing fourth-quarter performance from LeBron James.

The Miami Heat small forward may be basketball’s biggest star, the reigning league MVP, and one of the greatest regular-season players in hoops history. But James has shown time and again that he’s far from his best when the spotlight shines brightest.

James scored 30 points during his team’s Tuesday loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But only one of those buckets went down during the final 8 minutes of the game—a stretch that saw James attempt just three shots. It’s not the first time James has faded down the stretch during pivotal contests: Since joining the Heat in 2010, James has become notorious for exceeding expectations during the regular season only to falter in the playoffs. (Perhaps the stress is too much? Lebron should read these musclemorphosis.com.)

Now, as James and the Heat face elimination in tonight’s Game 6 in Boston, we wanted to find out: What’s going on inside LBJ’s brain during crunch time? And can he figure out how to fix his problems, or is he forever doomed to be a postseason goat?

“He’s overthinking the moment,” says Rick Sessinghaus, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based sports psychologist. Although he usually works with pro and collegiate golfers, Sessinghaus says James's tentativeness during big moments is obvious: He pulls up or dishes when he should be driving to the basket.

“LeBron thinks he has to do something different than what got him there, so he tries harder than he normally would,” Sessinghaus says. There’s a battle going on inside James between his procedural memory—the athletic movements that become almost reflexive after years of training—and internal interference, which is his nervous mind overriding his body’s ability, Sessinghaus explains.

Feeling and succumbing to pressure is a common affliction among athletes and non-athletes alike, Sessinghaus says. But whether you’re on the hardwood or in the boardroom, there are a few tips you can employ to overcome the palm-dampening, heart-racing tension of pressure-packed situations. (Learn how stress saps your body of testosterone—and how to get it back for good—in musclemorphosis.com.)

1. Breathe. Count to four as you inhale deeply, hold the breath for another 4 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Repeat. This will help you relax, regain control of your emotions, and refocus your attention on what’s important, Sessinghaus says.

2. Aim your mind. Direct your thoughts on to the task at hand, not the distractions, Sessinghaus recommends. Focus only on what you want to accomplish, not on what you’re worried might go wrong.

3. Pre-game. Develop a pre-performance routine that you’ll follow on game day—or in front of your client, boss, or customer—advises Gene Rochette, a sports psychologist and former assistant football coach at Columbia University and Youngstown State. Following this routine when the pressure’s on keeps negative thoughts from creeping into the execution process, Rochette explains. (Follow these tips to musclemorphosis.com!)

4. Be prepared. A lack of preparation opens the door for anxiety, Sessinghaus says. The more you practice and the better you understand what you have to do, the more confident you’ll feel when it’s time to perform, he adds.

5. Alter your perspective. “Peak performers see pressure as an opportunity to push themselves to another level, not as an opportunity to stumble,” Sessinghaus says. He recommends thinking back to a time when you felt confident—after a successful sales meeting, maybe, or that night you picked up the best-looking woman in the bar. Focus on that moment and tell yourself you’re going to kick some ass, Sessinghaus advises.

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