Mental toughness (or lack
thereof) trumps ability at Rugby World Cup 2007 - Tim Goodenough
Reading articles about the All Blacks preparation, especially about Daren Shand the Manager role in the team, it was obvious how professional they were, how much attention to detail they had – in all facets, all except mental skills development. Their Sports Psychologist focus was on team spirit, unity – growing the team, however I didn’t read anywhere any details on targeted one-on-one work to develop mental skills, principle amongst them mental toughness.
This is a real challenge for Sports Psychologists, as they need buy-in from the coach to get that kind of time with the players, and how do you get buy-in from the players themselves? Also what are the core skills of mental toughness, and how do you measure them, and then develop them?
The giant strides currently happening around the world and even in South Africa on mental skills development, means that in four years time – every major team worth their salt will have prepared their players physically and mentally, it will be a contest of skills primarily and mental toughness will play a secondary role. The opposite of what we saw in the first 2 quarter finals of the World Cup.
World Sport is changing, 30 years ago Gary Player was derided for gyming to improve his golf form, and now it is commonplace. Supplements, diet, scientific training programmes and even eye skills development are all designed to give that extra 5%, however what is clear is that your ability to perform under extreme pressure is the greatest leverage point in player development – whatever the level of yours skills is, whatever your ability – it comes down to how much can you utilise your talent, when it really counts. During the first Quarter Final, Stirling Mortlock (Australia) and Jonny Wilkinson (England) both had poor days at the office in terms of kicking specifically, in a windy Marseille stadium – yet they are amongst the top kickers in the world. On the day, the occasion and pressure influenced their ability to fully use their prodigious talents and skills.
If you consider all the hours of training, preparation and honing of skills that players do, and then consider how much time is spent on mental training, development, preparation – it is clear that there is a gross imbalance, especially considering how much influence your mental skills have on your performance. Just ask Richie McCaw, or Sirtling Mortlock. For many, working on ‘mental stuff’ is strange, weird and uncomfortable, however surely it isn’t as strange, weird and uncomfortable as exiting a World Cup that you should have won at the Quarter Final Stages.
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