I never thought that controlling my nerves played such a huge part in my performance through out my career. The scientific name for this is called performance anxiety which is described as choking or the decrease in athletic performance due to too much perceived stress. Controlling your nerves is key to giving your best performance but remember it won't control the match outcome.
You first need to try to reduce your anxiety before the match or training. The nerves that you feel in your body needs to be interpreted correctly. What your feeling inside is adrenaline. That adrenaline rush is normal and is part of your bodies natural preparation for the competition ahead. We as athletes often mis-interpret adrenaline for fear. We must not look at the event ahead with fear and know that the anxiety that we feel is natural and is supposed to be there. Often you must read or hear about players not being able to sleep the night before a big game. That is the feeling of adrenaline pumping into your body just from the thought of competing the next day.
So what should you do when your anxiety level is to high and start fearing the game ahead? I would recognize that the nerves are normal and they are supposed to be there. Self talk was huge for me and helped me calm my nerves and anxiety. I remember my first professional match with Real Salt Lake. It was a home match and I got the start against Landon Donovan's LA galaxy. I played left wing and I looked across the pitch and see one of the most decorated players across from me playing right midfield. My nerves were at its highest and I could feel my knees shaking with fear of embarrassing myself on in my rookie debut. Self talk got me through that moment. I spoke to myself about how hard I worked to get here, the many hours I put in to be ready for this moment. Putting positive thoughts in my mind gave me the confidence to not be afraid of the moment.
Nerves always has a way of creeping back into your body. Even after you fight the nerves before the game they will come back over and over again. I remember making a bad pass and the nerves came rushing back. My knees started to shake and I did not want to show for the ball again in fear of making another mistake. This is when you must take the game one step at a time. Remember what you have trained and trust your ability. With positive self talk and trusting my ability I played well that game and took those lessons into my career to make me a more confident player.
Now lastly, after every match or training session I always made sure to take the time to reflect on my performance. This is what builds consistency in your game and maturity.