This is an excerpt from Focused for Rugby by Adam R. Nicholls & Jon Callard.
Improving Your Confidence
You should recognize that a number of factors influence confidence and that building confidence takes time. Confidence can also disappear rapidly, so you should continue to engage in practice to maintain your confidence. For example, you might follow the recommendations that we outline to build your confidence and get results. If you fall back into your old behaviours, however, your confidence may disappear. To improve your confidence, adhere to the following recommendations.
Do not take any shortcuts in your training and preparation for matches. Earn the right to be confident through hard work. The following case study illustrates the importance of not taking shortcuts in training. This case study is based on a real example of a professional rugby union player who had just broken into the first team of his club.
Jim (pseudonym) is a 19-year-old professional rugby player who had played six games for his first team. He was a fly-half and experienced problems with his goal kicking during his third game. In his first two games Jim kicked well, but his performance had started to decline, as had his confidence. The following dialogue represents a snippet of the conversation that he had with his sport psychologist, who is referred to as SP.
SP: Jim, your coach tells me that you seem to have lost your confidence in recent games. I would like you to talk me through what has happened.
Jim: Yes, I have lost it, and I am not feeling confident at all. It all started when I played my third game for the first team. I kicked poorly, and the crowd really got to me. I could not stop thinking about whether I was going to get picked for the first team again because they had just signed another fly-half on loan.
SP: OK, let’s go back in time slightly now. I want you to describe the first two games that you played for the firsts.
Jim: Well, they went well for me. I missed only three kicks in both of those matches together. I felt so assured about my kicking game that I knew I had a good chance of making every kick.
SP: How did that make you feel?
Jim: I felt brilliant. I felt good during the matches and felt good away from rugby, too. In the matches I wasn’t thinking about anything other than kicking the ball through the middle of the posts. Even the kicks I missed went very close and were probably out of my range, but I told the captain I would have a go.
SP: You mentioned that your performance got worse in the third game. I was wondering if you did anything differently in preparation for your third game compared with you did for your first two games.
Jim: I had a tough week of training leading up to the third match because the coach wanted the players to improve their fitness. This has continued for the last few games, and I have not been putting as much time into my kicking after training. I have not been doing any extras.
In this case study, the player may have become a little complacent with his kicking after performing well in his first two matches, so he took shortcuts in training. He did not prepare fully, so his confidence suffered, as did his performance.
Be Rational About Success
Every player measure success differently. For instance, if you are currently playing for your club’s fourth team and are then selected for your club’s third-team squad, you have been successful. In table 7.2, list five things that you want to accomplish in rugby but make sure that they are achievable.
Focus on Improvement
The most significant sport confidence that you can have is belief in your ability to get better at rugby. Don’t judge yourself in relation to how other players are doing. Instead, focus on areas of your game in which you have improved and areas of your game in which you would like to improve. See chapter 2 on the performance profile for information about how to identify areas of your game that you would like to improve.
Regularly carry out position-specific practice in which you focus on specific elements of your game (e.g., lineout throwing, catching high balls, kicking, and so on). Developing these skills will set you apart from other players who play in your position. Ensure that you enter each training session with something that you want to practise and improve, such as your agility, strength, or kicking.
Prepare for all possible outcomes. Mentally prepare for optimal performance. Plan what you want to happen and visualise yourself being successful. For more information, see chapter 3 on preparation and chapter 6 on imagery. In addition, consider what could go wrong and work out how you will respond to it. That way, no surprises will occur during a match.
Honour yourself no matter what and do not be too critical. If you have done the right things in the build-up to a match and given your all, then you have no need to be self-critical. Remember that you will always have another chance.
Always display a confident demeanour, regardless of any mistakes that you make and especially after you make a mistake. Never reveal to your opponents that mistakes affect your confidence, even though internally it may have caused you stress. For instance, if a full back drops a high ball, his or her shoulders may drop. The player may look at the ground and display negative body language. The opposition team may then target that player. You should try to exude confidence at all times in these ways:
- Keep your shoulders pushed back. This action forces your chest and torso out. Your torso is vulnerable, but your posture demonstrates power and shows that you are not afraid of any confrontation.
- Always look straight ahead. If you make a mistake such as dropping a ball or giving away a penalty, do not look at the ground. Continue to look ahead and keep your chin up.
- Walk with a purpose during breaks in the game.
- Communicate clearly with teammates by maintaining the volume in which you would normally speak to them.
Read more from Focused for Rugby by Adam Nicholls, Jon Callard.