Professional sports people are notorious for routines and rituals before a big event.
For Dec, he has same meal every evening before the game and will never wear the number seven jersey, even when playing that position. It was while wearing number 7 that he sustained two consecutive ACL injuries, requiring surgery and 9 months to recover. Rituals can change from year to year, I remember one season there was a particular pair of lucky pants that barely made it to the end of the season in one piece.
I asked some of the rugby wives and partners about pre match rituals………..Matt Parr will always put his left sock on first, and likes to last out of the changing rooms, while Setaimata Sa will never have his hair cut on the day of or day before a game. Tomas O’Leary, being the laid back Irishman, has no such superstitions!
Why do some players need rituals? Before a game, the atmosphere will be intense with anxieties running high. It’s not unusual to have boys throwing up before exiting the tunnel to the pitch. Rituals give a player something to control, a routine can be like a meditation mantra helping to fight back the nerves and keep the sanity. When much of the game is down to chance, such as the bounce of the ball, or an unlucky tackle that could result in injury, a ritual can give some locus of control.
So it is the morning of the second pre season warm up game against Wasps, and we are already in to the Danaher rituals. The day before a game Dec increases his carbohydrate intake to approximately 550g, thats about 100g more than normal. This is to ensure that the muscles are fully loaded with glycogen, the fuel for powering through 90 minutes. Dec divides the 550g between 6 meals and snacks. Here is a list of 50g carbohydrate portions
Yesterday at 5pm he had pasta with pesto and chopped up chicken breasts with spring onion and pepper, followed by a bowl of rice pudding (homemade!), at 8pm it was noodles with tuna, more spring onions and pepper. And more of rice pudding. If all goes well at the game today, this is likely to be the food of choice for at least a few months.
The meals weren’t terribly inspiring or gourmet, but it’s fuel. Meals need to be easy and tick the nutrient boxes. Ideally, we would have varied the vegetables in the second meal, as the more variety and colours the better. However, in real life I had three children with me at the supermarket, the 1 year old having just thrown up before we left and the middle daughter celebrating her 4th birthday, so was over excited and not displaying what I would call ‘calm’ behaviour. I was one of ‘those mums’ that people frown at.
So today is match day. Dec will leave for the Sunbury training ground at about 10.30. Until then he lies in for as long as possible, has his porridge, bagel and coffee, then gets his kit together and heads off. He needs to get his head in ‘the right place’, so that will mean that I take the 3 children out so that they aren’t raking around the place heightening the tension. We need to keep things as calm as possible.
Before leaving for the Wasps game in High Wycombe, there will be a meal at Sunbury. Pre match meals should be high carb, low fibre and low fat for easy digestion. I’m not going to the game with the children today, but will be keeping a close eye on the Twitter updates from London Irish, then nervously awaiting the phone call after the final whistle to tell us than he’s come through in one piece . Until then, I’ll be crossing my fingers, avoiding walking under ladders and looking for black cats crossing the road.