Handling The Pressure of a Big Football Match (or Soccer Game)

"Stress is a killer" is something I am hearing more and more lately. It is a pretty convincing argument to get you to focus on your breath more or maybe when your friend is trying to convince you to join them at yoga class.   The book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers discusses how human beings these days face chronic stress (causing ulcers and other health issues) versus our ancestors who lived a more primal lifestyle.   "Primal" meaning they had more fight or flight moments like being attacked by a wild animal or hunting down prey, but less minor nagging stressors like social pressure, exams, SAT tests, sitting in traffic, or worrying about playing well in a big game. 


                                                              Fight or flight

 When faced with a stressful situation we either get aggressive and fight back or we flee the seen and run for the hills. Freezing up is also a possibility but it is rare and is another form of flight. What we do depends largely on our previous experiences and perhaps genetics forming our perception of the situation.  This fight or flight response begins in the brain, specifically the hypothalamus which trigger the nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system.  Physical symptoms like sweating, heart palpitations, and tight muscles commence as the nervous system has flooded your body with adrenaline.  You might feel these prior to a big soccer game, taking a penalty kick, approaching a member of the opposite sex, or prior to a fist fight.  

          Zlatan loves the high stakes 

         Zlatan loves the high stakes 

Performance in the fight or flight realm is what separates the good from the great.  Choking, the popular term for freezing up or shying away, leads to a decrease in performance and expression of skill.  Cognitive behavioral therapy and sports psychology deal with this type of stress very well. Using exposures and developing the ability to challenge our negative thoughts can interrupt these harmful thoughts and improving performance.  For example, maybe your mind keeps saying "I never play well on this field".  You can learn to detach from that thought and look at it for what it is- fear, or excessive attachment to outcome.


 Once you identify this, you can ask yourself what are you really afraid of or what are you hoping to gain so desperately? Is it the approval of others? If the worst case happens and you play terrible or get injured, can you live with that?  (probably yes) Ask "Ok, how many times have I played on this field and is it true I am under some kind of curse here?"  Superstitions are rooted in insecurity, so if your'e going to believe in them at least turn them into positive.  Ie. "Just for today, I'm going to play unbelievable on this field".  If that puts too much pressure on you try "just for today, I'm going to have fun and laugh off any mistakes...if I even make them".  The "if I even make them" is humorous because soccer is a game of mistakes... of course you will make some. Pretending as if you're going to have a perfect game is funny, and through humor we can distance ourselves from our fears.