Dealing With Butterflies

Originally posted on 2/1/2018

The music is blasting. The fans are at a fever pitch. The anticipation is building because the competition is about to start. You are a nervous wreck. Your palms are sweaty, you mind is racing, and the butterflies in your stomach are flapping their wings so fast, you feel like you’re going to explode. What the heck is happening???

Pre-Game jitters, or as some folks call them “butterflies”. You are nervous about the upcoming competition or performance. Whether they want to admit it or not, everyone experiences jitters or nerves. For some, these pre-game jitters can be paralyzing and for others it can just be a slight mental hurdle that can be cleared easily. No matter how jitters affect your performance, they must be recognized and combatted, NOT suppressed.

First thing we have to do is understand is what causes these jitters. The most common causes are:

· An uncertainty about the outcome of your performance.

· A fear of failure.

· Letting other people down whether it’s a coach, teammates, parents, girlfriends/boyfriends, etc. 

· A feeling of a lack of preparation. 

· Self-doubt in our abilities. 

· Comparing our abilities to our opponents (“They’re so much bigger and faster than me!”)

“Butterflies” are actually a good thing. It means you care about your performance, and you genuinely invested in what you are doing. As the great Tiger Woods once said, “the day I don’t get nervous on the first tee is the day I quit golf!”


In order to deal with these butterflies, we must recognize they are real, and they are NOT PERMANENT. While these nervous thoughts feel like an outside distraction, they are actually internal ideas that we CAN control. By suppressing these feelings and emotions, we are only allowing them to grow bigger and get louder and louder.

Address your “butterflies”, acknowledge them, and recognize when you are feeling them. Think of your emotions like a stoplight. When the light is RED, that’s when we are feeling nervous, anxious, or negative. When the light is YELLOW, that’s when we are starting to sense that these thoughts may be building up. When the light is GREEN, we are positive, we are confident, we are present, and we are enjoying the competition. Recognize when our light is RED.


A good routine to use when we are feeling nervous is taking deep breaths. Focus on each breath. Breathe deep in through your nose, and then out through your mouth. Repeat this process, concentrating on your breath. When we are nervous our muscles are tense and tighten up. Tight muscles are slow muscles. When we are tight we will grip the bat, the club, the racket, and the stick tighter than usual, thus constricting our movements. By taking deep breaths we slow down our heart rate, and start the process of relaxing our muscles and loosen them up. Relaxed muscles are free muscles. 

Positive Self-Talk can be a major contributor to getting over our nervousness. As we discussed earlier, we can control the thoughts in our heads, and when negative thoughts start to creep in, we can drown them out with positive and confident thoughts. Tell yourself:

· I’m ready. I’m prepared.

· I GET TO play the sport I love, while others simply watch.

· I will perform to the best of my abilities!

· I got this!

· I will play with relentless intensity today.

· Control what I can control!

Anxiety and nervousness are a form of energy, so it is important to re-channel that energy into a positive one that can increase our performance, not hinder it. These positive thoughts can help re-direct our anxious energy into peak performance.

When you set foot on the field, court, course, or rink, remember to control what you can control. Many external factors are what create our nervousness, whether it is letting others down, a fear of failing, or how your performance could affect the outcome. You can’t control people’s thoughts or opinions, you can’t control the outcome, and failure is never fatal. Stay present, stay positive, and play your sport one play at a time. Win the play, and move on to the next one!

Ben Kaplan