If anyone would be able to tell me how to handle pregame nerves, it would be Sisca Folkertsma. As player of the PSV women and the national Under 19 team that won the European Championship in 2014, she’s faced battles a lot tougher than taking a penalty kick in the semifinal of the Cup of Antwerp. That’s why I was very happy when she replied enthousiastically when I asked her if she wanted to talk about her story for my blog. And when she arrived at the Starbucks where we had agreed to meet with flowers because it was my birthday that day, I was so endeared that I accidentally said ‘Well, looks like you want to have a positive article written about you!’. Fortunately, she could laugh about it…
We talk about being stressed before a game, and I ask Sisca how on earth it’s possible that she’s not paralyzed with nerves when playing for PSV or the Dutch national team. ‘You grow in a certain routine, pretty much. When you’ve been playing important matches since you were 13, 14 years old, you get used to the pressure. These days it even happens that I’m not nervous enough, from time to time. That’s not good either.’ I tell her how stressed I can be when I give a bad pass during the warm-ups. ‘For me, it’s usually the other way around,’ she answers, ‘when I play terrible in the warming-up I usually have a really good game!’
Of course I ask her everything I want to know about life as an Eredivisieplayer, and about how tough it can be when you have the feeling that everything is against you, soccer-wise. ‘I just know that when the coach puts me on the bench, there’s a good reason for it. The only way to turn that situation around is simply working my ass off so the coach has no other option than to play me.’ I know she’s absolutely right, but I ask her if it doesn’t feel like a vicious circle sometimes. The worse you play, the less motivated you become, which leads to you playing even worse, et cetera. ‘Yes, that’s kind of true. But it’s so extremely important that you put all that aside, and just start focusing on what you can do on the very short term: give simple passes, regain your trust, and playing a little bit better step by step.’
Setting goals and lucky socks
Sisca agrees with me that setting goals in soccer is a good idea, but like so many before her she also tells me that counting down the days to the 2019 World Cup might not be the best idea. ‘You lose all your joy in soccer if you think about it like that. If I have a bad game or bad practice, I firstly try to start enjoying myself again, and all the rest will follow.’ And superstition, which is important to so many professional athletes, does that help her? She starts laughing. ‘Yeah, I currently have only one pair of soccer cleats. They’re pretty old, but I always wear them, whether we play on turf or on a muddy pitch. But I think they’re lucky. When I play on other cleats, it simply doesn’t go as well.’ Together, we conclude that it might be the solution to my problem: routine and superstition. ‘Maybe it’s time for lucky socks…’ Sisca jokes. Who knows, it might not be all that bad of an idea!
A full hour next to Daniëlle van de Donk
We also spend a short while talking about my experiences at PSV/FC Eindhoven, and I tell Sisca how remarkable I found it that we had to wait in the dressing room so long before the match. At Moldavo, we are expected an hour and fifteen minutes before kick-off, and then we get dressed, warm up and do the pregame talk in quite a tempo. At PSV/FCE I vividly remember that we spent at least an hour sitting in the dressing room, simply waiting around for the game. Not that I minded, though. I got to sit next to Daniëlle van de Donk for a full hour, and I secretly kind of fancied her. Sisca smiles. ‘I’m always eager to go to the fysiotherapist before the game, so I can talk to her for a bit. If I didn’t have to go I have no idea what I’d do in the dressing room all that time. Be extremely bored, probably.’
The converstation slowly comes to an end, and Sisca’s smart watch lights up. ‘Start moving,’ the screen reads. I never thought a professional player would let a watch tell her that she’s not moving enough… But anyway, we’re out of coffee, the time flew past, and I’ve learned a ton of new things when it comes to the mental aspect of soccer. For Sisca, the afternoon schedule consists of a gym workout, team dinner and finally field practice at PSV. I decide to go home, and Netflix for a while before I leave for practice. If someone doesn’t have pregame stress before the final of the Under 19 European Championship, how can I be worried about taking a penalty kick with Moldavo’s second team?
Tonight, I’m gonna grab a random pair of socks out of my closet and baptize them my ‘lucky socks’. If these following weeks I suddenly play spectacularly well, you now know why that is. And in that case, I promise to personally deliver a huge bouquet of flowers to Sisca’s home!
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂
Photo’s © Thomas Bakker