Facing the fans

Matt Foulk, Sports Editor

The clock ticks down. Time is running out. You can barely hear your coach screaming in your ear over the deafening roars of the crowd. Your heart is beating out of your chest, and your body is exhausted, but everyone is depending on you. You better not mess up.

High school athletes are put under enormous pressure to perform well. Their coaches, parents, teammates, and the swarm of fans are counting on athletes to perform their best.

According to junior football player Ayo Bodison, games with large attendance put the most pressure on athletes. “The most nervous I have ever been was probably [against] Bel Air because I was playing in front of all my friends and family. I felt like I had to prove myself,” he said.

Although crowds can be distracting, players tend to enjoy the heightened atmosphere. “In some ways, large crowds make things chaotic, and [in] some ways it makes me more excited,” Bodison said.

Unlike Bodison, sophomore field hockey player Mackenzie Hopkins feels no pressure from her family, and the crowds do not affect her. “I’m used to playing in front of my parents, and the crowds never bother me,” she said.

Nerves, however, are not reserved for exterior influences. Oftentimes, athletes stress themselves out by setting demanding goals. “I always want to do my best, and if I make a mistake it will bother me until the next week,” senior cross country runner Rosemary Gillam said.

Many athletes have developed a routine to help calm their nerves prior to games, such as a repeated warm up, listening to music, or pre-game speeches. Hopkins believes that her team’s routine helps to calm nerves before games. “We run through warmups before games. We always stretch and sometimes work on passing. Doing this before all my games helps calm me down,” she said.

Gillam agreed that having a warmup to begin with before any match helps calm her nerves.“I always do a half-mile warmup and do a thorough stretch starting with my hip flexors and ending with my calves and ankles,” she said.

For many players, once the game begins, the nerves quickly disappear. Their minds tune out all the distractions and they focus on the game at hand. “I just get excited and focused, really focused,” Bodison said.

In the end, nerves are something every player has to deal with differently. No matter the ritual, every athlete who wants to be successful has some ways of handling it, whether that way is distracting themselves or tackling the problem head-on.

Matt Foulk is a Sports Editor of The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.