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Tired is a Mindset: Change It

Basketball is Psychology VIII

“Fatigue is all mental.” --Lebron James



It’s mid-February. If your season is still going on, there is a good chance you are tired. Basketball season is long. It can drain you physically, mentally, and emotionally. At this point, no one is healthy and fresh.

This is the part of the season that demands even more of your mind and body. Every game matters, every game is a must-win. Being tired and performing at any level less than your best is not an option.


Central Governor Theory

In psychology, the Central Governor Theory suggests fatigue is actually a mentally driven emotional state. Nobody asks to be subbed out of a game in the last minute of the fourth quarter. Towards the end of a game, your fatigue decreases. Physically you are more tired, but mentally you have more energy.

This happens because your brain realizes how close you are to finishing the intense exercise. It knows it’s safe to let you recruit more muscle fibers. Otherwise, your brain is preparing for worst-case scenario of maintaining the intensity for a prolonged period, so your brain limits the amount of muscle you can use, which limits your performance. Your body is capable of much more than your own mind will allow you to believe.

This is what causes the 2nd wind phenomenon for runners. Nobody quits a marathon on mile 25. You might think you can’t go on any longer, but when you realize how close you are to the end, your brain allows you to recruit more muscle fibers and use more energy because it realizes you won’t die if you expend more energy. Essentially, if you are in danger of doing serious harm to your body, your brain will shut the body down.

Your brain was designed to keep you safe. It has neurally calculated limits for intensity levels so no damage is done to your body parts. Your brain’s job is to keep everything at homeostasis. Your body needs to be at the right temperature, have plenty of water, etc. The dilemma is playing basketball and exercising in general disrupts this. The recruitment of these muscle fibers is how we use energy to perform.


Tricking The Central Governor

You can increase your muscle fiber recruitment with caffeine, music, and most importantly, motivation. In life or death situations, your brain allows you to use as much muscle fiber as possible because there is a lot of motivation to stay alive. The more important a task is to you, the more muscle your brain gives you access to. This is why in emergency situations, people have the ability to lift cars and perform superhuman feats.

Did they suddenly become a superhero with superpowers? No, their brain granted all access to more energy because the brain is wired for protection and that is what needed to be done to stay alive. In a normal person, muscle fiber recruitment is at about 60%. In life or death situations, it goes up to 100%.

The more motivated you are, the better you will perform, because motivation overrides the mental state of fatigue.

Regardless of your level of fitness, there will come a time when you hear a voice in your head telling you to stop. Question that voice. Am I really fatigued or is that just my emotions? Do I have more to give? Your brain is going to try to convince you that it is time to stop, but don’t believe it, know that it’s not time to quit. Win the mental game, and you’ll dominate the game when everyone else has had enough.

During a practice or a game, when you feel like you are tired and out of energy, your brain sent a signal for you to stop and preserve your health. This however is not reality. The intense physical demands of basketball are real. But when you get that signal to stop, you still have much more to give. Fatigue is merely a mental message saying you’ve pushed to about 60%, there is still more. You are not tired, your body is just making sure you are safe. Override that feeling saying you need to stop, and have the discipline to keep going.

Make no mistake- it is going to be hard. You are not going to feel good in the second half of a game late in the season. Expect for it to be difficult and be ready to push through the pain when your brain tells you to stop. The great basketball players are experts at this, so they never seem tired no matter how long the practice or how difficult the drill is.

Think about the greatest basketball players to ever play. I can imagine Michael Jordan felt tired during his flu game, but he didn’t let it show, he kept going. The greats know how to focus on winning instead of focusing on the fatigue, pain, and discomfort.

Those who can be the master of their mind and push their body past fatigue will win.

Tired is a mindset, and you can control your mind. Your body is stronger than you think, and you can do more than you think you can do. Rule your mind.


Action Steps

1. Stay in the now.

You are going to get very tired if you think about how much longer the game is going to be, how many more sprints you have to run, how many drills you have left in practice, etc. Focus on doing your best in this instant of time. If you just focus on this possession, your brain won’t tell you you’re too tired, because its sole focus is only on one possession.

2. Stay hungry.

Figure out what motivates you and keep yourself motivated. It could be music, a video, thinking about a goal, whatever it is, take advantage of the power of motivation and use it every day.

3. Ban “I am tired” from your vocabulary and your thoughts.

Words become self fulfilling prophecies, and they magnify that feeling. The more you say you are tired, the more tired you will feel. If you need rest, get rest, but know the difference between that and the emotional perception of fatigue. Stop telling yourself you’re tired. Tell yourself the pain and fatigue is temporary. Tell yourself you have more energy and more effort to give, because you do.


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology



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