On Saturday, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, Andre Blake, made his season debut in Saputo Stadium against Montreal Impact. After suffering a torn meniscus twice throughout this season, he finally had his opportunity to take the field. Besides being his first game of this season, it was only his second start as a professional player. Blake stated, “I once learned that if you don’t have nerves going into a game, the game doesn’t mean anything to you. So, I definitely had some nerves, you just have to learn how to control it.” He seemed to be able to manage those nerves because he played a solid game, and with the help of his team, earned a clean sheet. Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin, praised his young goalkeeper, saying, “We gave up four shots on goal and Andre did a great job being clean with them.” He continued. “It’s a huge confidence builder for him… He’s been very patient and I thought he deserved an opportunity and he stepped up and kept a clean sheet.”
Dealing with injuries is never easy, particularly recovering from two difficult injuries back-to-back within one season. Along with the necessary physical training and reconditioning, it is important to continue working on your mental skills while you recover from injury. Staying focused on the process of your recovery, setting small goals, and leaning on teammates, family, and friends for support can be very helpful. Another strategy to help you feel prepared for your first game back is to start practicing how you’ll manage any nerves you might experience well in advance. While you’re going through your recovery process, try using visualization to envision what your experience will be like when you can play again. To do this effectively, try to engage many of your senses. For example, picture what the field will look like and what kit you’ll be wearing, how the grass will smell, what the crowd will sound like, and how you anticipate your body will feel. Then, train yourself to visualize your effective response to this situation. You could visualize yourself using centering breathing and self-talk to manage your nerves, and you could visualize yourself communicating with teammates and staying focused to start the game off strong. Make an effort to make this mental training a consistent part of your recovery plan.
Then, on the day of your first game back, keep that mental practice in mind. That time you spent training yourself mentally can be a big source of confidence. Further, in order to manage your nerves as you step into the game, try using self-talk that helps you feel confident and focused. Saying things like, “I prepared for this” or “I can do this” could help. Think about what might work for you. As Blake mentioned, there is nothing wrong with feeling nervous before a game, particularly before you first game of the season. Your job is to manage those nerves, and you choose how you want to do it.
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