Pregame Breathing Exercises to Help Your Athlete Calm Their Nerves

Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you feel stressed? Chances are that your breath is shallow or rapid. Perhaps you even hold your breath and stop breathing altogether. On the flip side, how do you breathe when you feel relaxed? Chances are it feels deep and slow.

Our breathing and our feelings are intricately linked. Not only do stress or relaxation cause certain patterns of breath, but when you intentionally breathe in a certain way, you can cause the desired feeling. 

Breathing exercises can help you relax because they make your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. The benefits of deep breathing for kids (and adults) include:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Promoting happiness
  • Igniting peace and calmness
  • Lowering blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reducing tension
  • Improving focus and concentration

Below are three simple breathing techniques you can use with your child or athlete to calm their nerves. Remember, getting nervous before a big game is completely normal. For more about dealing with anxiety, read the article, “How to Deal with Pregame Anxiety”. 


Belly breathing

Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress. Here’s how:

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Fill your belly up with your breath. Your chest should not move.
  4. Breathe out through your nose or your mouth, whichever is most comfortable. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to gently push all the air out.
  5. Do this 5 to 10 times, taking your time with each breath.
  6. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.


Box Breath

Box breath is a really easy breathing exercise for athletes of any age. It is called box breath because it has four equal parts: inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Start with one second each and gradually increase the duration as you get more comfortable with the practice. Here’s how:

  1. Breathe in for one second. 
  2. Hold the inhale for one second. 
  3. Breathe out for one second. 
  4. Then, hold the exhale for one second. 


One Nostril Breath

One nostril breath is adapted from a yoga breathing practice called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. It takes concentration, so it’s best used with kids older than age ten. Make sure no one is holding their breath. Even if they mess up, be sure to instruct them to keep breathing throughout the exercise. It can get quite silly, so invite fun and lightness to the practice. Here’s how:

  1. Have your child place their finger over the left nostril to close it, then breathe in deeply through the right nostril.
  2. Next, switch your finger to close the right nostril as you breathe out of the left nostril.
  3. Once you have exhaled slowly, inhale through the left nostril (same nostril).
  4. Close the left nostril and exhale out of the right nostril.
  5. Inhale again through the right nostril.
  6. Keep slowly switching nostrils and repeat.
  7. Practice this exercise for no more than 2 minutes.
  8. This is a wonderful exercise when your kids are feeling angry, anxious or tense.


Do you or someone you know need help managing their sports team or club? Sign up for a free 21-day trial today. Or check out our club and league solution, TeamSnap for Clubs and Leagues if your team is part of a larger sports organization.


Sarah Kostin is a freelance copywriter, published author, and former children’s librarian. With a background in yoga, mindfulness, life coaching, and ultramarathon running, Sarah has a passion for writing about fitness, mindset, personal growth, and overall well-being

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