The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pre-Match Nerves

Handling our nerves and maintaining equilibrium during performance is one thing, but what about that other perennial comment I encounter, couched usually in terms like this.

Pete, I get really bad nerves before a match. How can I deal with them?”
In my book Mind How You Play, I explore Equilibrium and where and how the balance of our performance is arrived at, or how it is in being.

Of course, if we could just sail through our pre-match build-up then starting out in a state of equilibrium would be just a matter of getting the motor running, heading out on the competition highway and looking for adventure. And, to be honest, a lot of the pre-match work with teams I am involved with on game days is about just that. Getting their motors purring through not over revving-up, and feeling grounded in Mind through being not wound up.
We are all prone to, and most of us get pre-match nerves to some degree, but here’s the thing - Some of what we are feeling is emotionally draining, scrambles our brain and is physically debilitating, and some is just plain excitement and anticipation of the contest.
And if we only got the thrill, the anticipatory tingle, the frissant of electricity that flashes around the body, then we would never describe any of that as bad nerves.

No, in the mix of all the stuff that’s going on for us there is good and bad – some more useful and some less useful. It is the bad nerves that do nothing positive for us at all - which is why it makes sense for us to want to deal with them!

Getting started
It starts with Equilibrium. Once we have an understanding of Equilibrium, then we’ll realise that there needs to be zero nerves – both good AND bad! Since nerves are a manifestation of our thinking, then - in an ideal world - there needs to be a state of zero thinking.

So, after the philosophical angle, the understanding, what is the next step?

To put it simply, there are two approaches to dealing with Bad Nerves – you can either
The do something approach requires a strategy, while the do nothing approach merely requires an understanding.
A strategy you will have to learn and carry out – while an understanding is just a felt sense of knowing; what we might call wisdom.

Now, don’t get me wrong – they both work!
And in all honesty I coached the strategic approach for years, after first applying to self to judge how straightforward and beneficial things would be.

Some players do visualization, some play music on headphones, some set up an inner calm place beforehand and go there, some meditate. All these strategies for pre-match nerves are designed to bring about one thing in common – a state of reduced thinking, of feeling calm and grounded.
And these are, on the face of it, quite sensible things to do!

Whichever strategy we have, it's designed to take us from our present state (nerves) to our desired state (grounded calm) and we use these vehicles, these means of transport, to get us there.
Now I'll come back to feeling - for feeling, in this regard, is the operative word.
Bad nerves – feeling bad – happens when there is an apparent overload of Kinaesthetic experiences going on in the foreground. And the more the overload, the worse the badness of feeling gets.

However, I’d like you to notice how these strategies are all geared to turning down the Kinaesthetic experience by overloading more Visual and Auditory sensual experience into the foreground. The trouble is we’re using other overloads to deal with the first overload, and you know what – the first overload is not actually reduced, it is just masked.

The headache
We don’t take paracetamol for a headache, we take it to mask the kinaesthetic perception of headache pain. The cause of the headache is still there causing pain, yet we’ve changed the balance of chemicals in the brain to ‘trick’ our perceptions. Of course we are knowing and willing partners in this act of ‘trickery’, without really knowing the precise details of what is going on for us – on the inside!

We can also take this subterfuge further, and ‘trick’ our perceptions, when a placebo is substituted for the paracetamol. It is important we don’t know it’s a placebo however, for obvious reasons – but we need to know what is going on in our heads when the headache goes this time. In this instance the masking of the pain is done by releasing some of our own neuro-chemicals, and the perceptual trigger for this ‘trick’ was that we THOUGHT we were taking paracetamol! And because we “know” that paracetamol deals with headache then the end result of our thinking is ... no headache!

For some people there are certain “drugs of choice” for nerves, from narcotics and alcohol across to beta-blockers. They all deal with the feelings, the kinaesthetics, of the nerves and not the causes of those feelings. I know some players who even use stimulating drinks to help them deal with their nerves, which has to be about as bizarre as eating toothpaste to combat gum disease!

Do you follow, are you with me here? Are the mists clearing yet? Is the mask slipping – for you?

What is it that lies behind ALL our feelings? Thought.

We see a wonderful sunset, or hear a great song, and the way we feel about those experiences has been generated by our perceptive powers, our thought processes. How easy is it to imagine how exciting some upcoming event is going to be? It is SO easy that we can experience a felt sense of how it will be well in advance. Similarly, our perception of a headache is driven by thought. And our bad nerves, too, are driven by our own thinking.

Just consider what thoughts are going on behind your feelings of bad nerves.
“I’m worried about my performance; I’m worried whether I’ll play well or whether I’m good enough; I don’t want to let others down so I’m worried about that; I’m worried I’m carrying an injury; I always worry because I want to do things right; What will people think of me if I don’t do well?;If I wasn’t worried one particular day I’d probably be worried about that too.”

There are many issues going on in that montage of reasons – all sewn together by the word “I”!
Logically, your intellect tells you that all this worry is a bit pointless – but your body is telling you something else. “I’ve still got the jitters, the butterflies, a tight, wrenching knot in my gut,” you’ll be saying, as your heartbeat pounds fast, your breathing gets shallow and faster, your mind seems to race or be spinning out of control, your palms get sweaty and your mouth goes bone dry.
Get familiar with those feelings - whereabouts do you feel them? Acknowledge them – because you remember what happened all the other times you tried to make them go away by denying them, or overloading them, or by ingesting something to mask them, or by just wishing and hoping.
Notice what is different this time, for out of the noticing will come your understanding.

Are the feelings in your body or in your head? The answer, curiously, is a particular pointer as to where you are ‘living your life’.
It is as if those bad nerves, for each and every one of us, have a sixth sense as to where we are most vulnerable!

Feelings noticed in the body are more straightforward for you to combat – while if you feel the nerves in your head, it’s because you are living your life in your head, driven by a logical perspective from your intellect.
In the head’ people don’t want to feel grounded, they want to feel in control – and the control they want to feel in control of is – at the end of the day - their thinking!

Once you acknowledge your nerves AND have the understanding of what is behind them, driving them, then you have made that first shift towards the non-strategic approach – the do nothing approach. The realisation, in the moment, that your nerves are a result of your reactions to your thinking, is the quickest, surest and best long-term way of every future dealing that you’ll have to make.

Kick Me!
When you were at school, did anyone ever stick a note on the back of your jacket saying “Kick Me”? It’s a very ‘old style’ practical joke!

Now imagine someone had, and first of all you were blissfully unaware of being kicked –
Until, that is, you began to wonder why you had a sore backside. You’d be sat on that bruised posterior contemplating the source of the discomfort, racking your brain for reasons why and yet never knowing!
Until, that is, the day you noticed someone in the act of kicking you there.
“Please don’t kick me there,” you’d say. “It’s very sore for some reason or other. I think I must have something wrong with me. Guess I need to visit the doctor." Even then, you still wouldn’t realise they were actually just carrying out the instructions from the note on your back.

Until, that is, the day you went to the doctor and told him the story. "Take off your jacket," says the doctor and then he shows you the note pinned there. “People have been kicking me – that explains everything,” you’d then say.
Of course you’d still need to act upon the knowledge, the realisation you’ve just encountered – for if you left the note pinned to the jacket, people would still kick you. You'd then know WHY you had a sore behind, however you WOULDN'T yet have actually taken any steps to change anything!

The choice about getting to grips with Bad Nerves is entirely yours, of course. You have all the ways and means of making your performance a great one. However, if there is anything you’ve overlooked or left behind - you may just feel something in that left behind!
Then you’ll realise why and you’ll Kick Yourself!
"Pre-Match Nerves" is a shortened version of the same-named chapter from Mind How You Play, which is now available in eVersion on Kindle here:-

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