I used to love catching butterflies as a young child. I would holiday down in picturesque Somerset, in the south west of England, with my family in the summer. There, with my sister, I would chase after the kaleidoscopic, delicate insects, desperately seeking to hold one in my hands to inspect it further. At that age I didn’t recognise the expression ‘to have butterflies in one’s stomach’. A few years on and I had taken up football as a hobby, a passion. That’s when the butterflies came back to haunt me.
The expression ‘to have butterflies’ refers to that churning feeling in one’s stomach, often accompanied with being in love or being particularly nervous. I’m sure we have all experienced this feeling at one time in our lives. Unfortunately, as a child, I would experience it once a week…specifically a Saturday morning at around 11 o’clock…two hours before kick-off. Pre match nerves are common regardless of the sport or age of the person, but they can affect some more than others. If you are reading this and feel you are particularly affected by pre-match nerves, then I have some personal advice which can hopefully help.
I came to the conclusion that my nerves were mainly down to the fear of failure, moreover of making a mistake in the match. At times this would stop me from sleeping the night before. I got into the habit therefore, of imagining the match before going to bed. In my mind I would construct the ‘perfect’ performance. I would picture success and relate those good feelings of winning with a good performance, in turn relaxing me and enabling me to get some much needed rest. The morning of the game, nerves can reach their climax. Preparation is key. Have a good breakfast, listen to your favourite music and focus on things that have gone well in training. Be positive. Once you are in the right frame of mind it is important to focus on the warm up. I always found the warm up was the perfect time to let all those nerves pass, and concentrate fully on the game ahead. It is amazing what a positive perspective can have on one’s performance and that of the team. After all, as American football coach Vince Lombardi once said, ‘confidence is contagious’.
So if you are one of those who experiences pre-match nerves; don’t panic. We are all individuals and have different ways to combat the nerves. Just work out which technique helps you the most.