At the Investec International Rugby Academy, we include lessons on mental toughness in our courses – a topic that is often undervalued. Skills and physical development are often brought to the fore in the game of rugby but there is much to be said about the importance of mental toughness on the field.

Our Meta-Coach, Tim Goodenough, has worked with the Sharks in their Super Rugby competitions as well as with other athletes in a variety of sports. Tim provides lessons on mental toughness with our players and coaches in order to enable players to flourish in their abilities.

Mental toughness is defined as how well a player is able to “handle” their minds in pressurised situations and when experiencing physical exhaustion or pain. Of course, this doesn’t mean pushing through potentially dangerous injuries; instead it refers to how well a player is able to make quick decisions, is able to put his fears aside and is able to look at each game with a fresh outlook.

In order to demonstrate the difference between a mentally tough player and a player with difficulties in mind-set, consider the following scenarios. Mental toughness is measured using the four C’s.

Scenario 1

An example of a player with the wrong mind-set that needs to be worked on in order for him to achieve his potential:
• Control – The player drops the ball but blames his teammate for passing incorrectly.
• Commitment – The player has been selected for the second team and puts in less effort than he would have in first team.
• Challenge – The player breaks down in stressful situations and is more prone to error during key moments in a match.
• Confidence – The player is always comparing himself to others in his position and doubts his capabilities against his competition.

Scenario 2

An example of a player who displays all the signs of mental toughness:
• Control – The player drops the ball, takes responsibility for it and takes control when put in a similar situation.
• Commitment – The player gives his best effort regardless of which team he is selected for.
• Challenge – The player is able to remain level-headed in stressful situations and sees these situations as a challenge and is focused on turning the moment into opportunity.
• Confidence – The player recognises his own and others’ abilities, and understands that he has something unique to offer his team.

Coaches, please share this information with your players as every player can achieve his potential when he understands what it means to be mentally tough. He can then identify his weaknesses in order to improve in this area. It is important to note that no player will ever exhibit all the qualities of mental toughness all the time and that mental toughness is a psychological concept that takes time to perfect.