The culmination of the Currie Cup and the consequent selection of the Springbok squad for the end of year tour are upon us. The Boks will embark on a month long European tour in which they will face Wales in Cardiff, Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh before returning to the scene of their 2007 World Cup Triumph, the Stade de France to face the unpredictable French.
However, apart from the obvious challenge of the ‘Red Dragons’ and ‘Les Bleus’, the Springboks face two more subtle challenges that have been the downfall of the team in the past.
Recall 2010 – the Boks lost 21-17 to Scotland on their end of year tour in the midst of beating Wales, Ireland and England to fall agonizingly short of claiming a prestigious ‘Grand Slam’.
How could this happen you may ask – especially given South Africa’s dominance over Scotland (particularly at home) and Scotland’s lack of rugby prowess and pedigree when compared to the Welsh and French sides.
South African rugby sides (both national and provincial) have been guilty in the past of ‘taking their foot off the gas’ at the wrong time. This mentality coupled with our seemingly inherent dislike for travelling are two challenges that extend to many sportspeople/teams.
These two challenges require a shift in your mental approach – a shift the Boks will have to get spot on should they wish to end the year off on a high … a shift you may wish to implement yourself.
1. The game before the GAME
Regardless of what we are told about never underestimating our opponents, we all encounter ‘challenges’ which we perceive as easier than others. A keen interest in school sports has illustrated this to me over the years as traditional derby games have the uncanny ability to cause major upsets.
So, when approaching your ‘Scotland’, that mid-week game before the more important match over the weekend, that lesser opponent before you reach your nemesis…maybe try the following:
Have more than one definition of success
Don’t simply judge your performances on results/the score. Judge your performance on execution – doing this will result in the will to strive for excellence in any context, despite your opponent. The Boks need to shift their focus to making sure that all their facets of play are executed well – from their lineouts, to their defence, to their handling. If they focus on, and execute these effectively, the result will surely be handsome.
Value Driven Behavior
Commit to your values. Values such as ‘discipline’, ‘efficiency’, and ‘mindfulness’ (to name a few) are independent of opponent and atmosphere. So even when you are playing on the ‘B’ field with nobody there to watch you (a fail in comparison to next weeks ‘main attraction’) – achieving your values remains as evident as always. Now all that remains is for you to identify what your values are…
You only as good as your last game! Allow this to marinate within your consciousness and then shift your thoughts to what your last performance was like, and the momentum that you drew from this.
A big challenge for South African rugby teams (particularly in the early years of Super Rugby) has been the fuss made (especially in the media) over how ‘unfair’ the travelling is. This type of talk creates a negative “we got cheated” perception – a perception which is deadly to great performances.
Fortunately there have been teams that have accepted the reality, got on with the job at hand, and consequently squashed this perception – most notably the 2007 World Cup Winning Team and the 2012 Super Rugby finalists, The Sharks. These two winning teams had a few things in common…
If you say you can…then you can…
Focus your talk to yourself and within your team on embracing the challenge, looking forward to seeing a new place and testing your skills in a different atmosphere. Always remember: “Good athletes are concerned about the big game, great athletes are excited.”
Confidence through preparation
Why do you train hard? So you can win in toughest conditions. In recent history two of the most notable Springbok victories came against the All Blacks in Wellington in 1998, and in 2009 in Hamilton. Ultimately the limits of your comfort zone get shifted through the quality of your preparation.
Travelling becomes less of a challenge when you know that your preparation outperforms your challenge. This confidence will assert itself regardless of where you are.
Embrace the culture
Experienced New Zealand no. 2 Andrew Hore and several of his teammates have made no secret of their visits to Bismark and Jannie du Plessis’s farm in the Free state on touring South Africa.
Whether you are travelling to New Zealand, to Europe, or even just to the ‘Platteland dorpie’ 80km from the nearest city, embracing the culture and the atmosphere of a new place is essential. Successful touring teams are teams that have had fun. Come the end of year tour, maybe we will see the Boks eating haggis and wearing kilts…
So whatever your equivalent of the Boks leaving the South African sunshine for a tour in the European sleet – whatever your equivalent of a match against Scotland: a shift in your mental approach could hold the key.