Psych Series: Just Relax (Chapter 2)

Considering Chris’ fabulous display in his futsal cup final recently, I’d like to write about playing football with the right amount of intensity. Nerves are a funny thing and if you let them control you it can be tough to get the best out of yourself on the pitch. Nerves get your body pumping and you can feel the adrenaline throughout your body. When you play an important game, nerves will be there, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, without practice your nerves can get the best of you. Nerves can have two effects on your performance, mentally they can distract you from your task and physically they can tighten your muscles, raise your heart rate and impact your blood glucose levels. So, being able to reduce the nerves that you feel before a game will have an impact on your ability to regulate your diabetes and let you play your best stuff!

Sport psychologist have suggested that anxiety is different to arousal. Put simply, anxiety is the negative perception of arousal. Arousal can be thought of as the body preparing itself for either fight or flight. So when your hands are shaking or you can feel your heart beating faster, this is the body preparing itself to perform. It does not necessarily mean you are nervous, you could be excited. What’s more is that sport performers often suggest that they need a little bit of nerves to play their best.

It is possible to have too much arousal which can lead poor performances. In a football match, if you are too psyched up, you might make reckless challenges or perhaps give the ball away because you try and get rid of the ball as soon as you receive it. Or even worse, your blood glucose levels may shoot up. Over arousal or playing with too much intensity can be a problem and can get in the way of playing your best football when you most desperately want to. For a moment, think of arousal on a scale of 1-10. If you are not up for the game at all, say a one or two you probably won’t play your best. On the flipside, if you’re a 9-10 you may run around like a headless chicken or play hot potato with the ball, or your levels may be to high. Not the best way to allow your talent to show, you need to relax.

Now, relaxing can be easier said than done and I don’t think that anyone ever calmed down when someone told them, just relax. However, there are somethings you can do to help bring your arousal down and give you a chance to play your best.

TIP ONE: BREATHE – It sounds simple I know. However, when we feel under pressure and stressed, our breaths become shorter and our bodies become tense. When this happens it’s harder to produce the free-flowing footwork that allows you to beat a defender. Or the co-ordination you need to control a pass from your teammates. Before you step on the pitch, take some deep breaths, concentrate on inhaling and filling your lungs with air. Then, when you exhale, try to feel the stress leave your body. Do this for 30 seconds and then return to your regular breathing.

TIP TWO: PROGRESSIVE MUSCULE RELAXTION – This technique requires a little more time and regular practice to master. However, if you practice it frequently, it can really help you relax and perform on the big days. Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) is a series of tensing and relaxing your muscles. When you are under pressure, your muscles can tighten and one of the best ways to loosen them is actually to tighten them some more first. Just as an example, right now try tensing your fist for 10 seconds, then relax it. Notice how loose your hand feels and compare it to the difference you felt when your fist was clenched. PMR usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes to complete and can help calm yourself down when you feel nervous. Chris and I will also go over this on our podcast so stay tuned for that!

TIP THREE: SLOW DOWN – As I mentioned earlier pressure can cause us to speed up and rush. Sometimes we play as if we want to get it over as fast as possible. This can happen even when we have worked really hard to get ourselves to this point. Remember, nerves can be a sign that you care. So when you find yourself in a big game, try slowing down. Take a little longer on the ball, get your head up and have a look around for your teammates. You probably have more time than your realise. Even though you may feel like you’re in slow motion, you probably won’t be far from your normal playing speed.

TIP FOUR: FOCUS ON THE PROCESS – Thoughts about winning, losing or anything outside of the here and now is a distraction and can cause anxiety. This anxiety then takes you out of your normal game. You become focused on things that make you worry and not things that make you play well. So try and focus on the here and now. Take a moment to think about when you play your best stuff, what do you do? Do you get on the ball and find your teammates, run in behind the defenders, win tackles? Whatever you do on the days you play well is your game. Focus on playing your game, if you play your game well, you will give yourself the best chance of winning.

Right sorry for the long read, I’ve tried to make it as short as possible but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Until next time!

Have a great week,

Alex.

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