Ruan Pienaar opens up about pre-match nerves and negative impact of social media on the players of today

Whilst the formerSpringbok got through his anxiety before games, he is thankful that most of his career was played before the onset of social media

Ulster's Ruan Pienaar will play his first game on 2017 this afternoon. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Pienaar played for ulster between 2010 and 2017. Picture: Hugh Russell

Former Ulster player Ruan Pienaar may have been known for his nerves of steel on the pitch during a glittering rugby career, however, he tells how it wasn’t always that way before games and how the impact of social media can have a negative impact on young players today as he looks back on his own playing days.

“I’m a guy that got really nervous before games, and that is something that I won’t miss.” He said.

“I think the pre-game jitters and just being so nervous and overthinking stuff…once the whistle went then you are fine, but I won’t miss that.

“My nerves were never actually about the game, but rather letting my teammates down in a game, that was my nerves.” He continued.

“And obviously you are going to have times like that in teams and you’re not going to have a game or the best season.

“The ups and downs. There is a lot of lows and a lot of highs.

“I tried at the back end of my career just to relax a little bit more, because you see these 20-year-old guys that are so chilled before a game and I’m 40 and I’m like “why am I so nervous?”. But I was never like that before games, the nerves always got to me, but once we got underway it wasn’t too bad.”

Whilst the 88-cap Springbok got through his anxiety before games, he is thankful that most of his career was played before the onset of social media and the constant analysis and reviews of players’ performances. For him, he chose to look the other way when the papers had their say on his performances, but not everyone in the family did so.

“Social media is a big negative (to the mental well-being of sports players today)” Said Pienaar.

“There are a lot of positives with it but there are negatives too.

“You go through stages in your career or seasons, and it doesn’t go that well, and you take a bit of abuse in the papers.

“When I was younger and you played on a Saturday, I was always buying the paper after a game on a Sunday and you maybe got a four-out-of-ten in the ratings and people say bad things, it doesn’t just affect you but your family so that was tough.” He added.

“So, I decided pretty early on I would stop all of that and just not read the papers. I was my own toughest critic so I didn’t need outside noise to tell me, and that’s how I handled it then.

“Today is so much harder. It’s constant and it is harder to avoid. Back in the day, my mum liked to read stuff and she would tell my wife and she would tell me and I was like “Why would she do that to herself?” But it can be tough.”

“People must remember we dedicate so much time to our sport but it’s not our whole life.”

Luckily for Pienaar, he used his mental strength to have the last laugh and be the last man standing.