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Matchday Mental Fitness for Star Rugby Players

On matchday, it’s easy for players to be overwhelmed by their thoughts and worries about the game ahead. Even professional athletes and rugby stars can experience anxiety before playing, and to an extent, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The rule of thumb is to take time to relax and switch off before the stressful event. 

Most rugby players tend to want to shoot hoops and run around the court a bit, perhaps to get rid of the edge and get their head in the game. For away matches, a portable basketball system may be useful.  This week’s Canadian Tire flyer has one at $439.99. At least you can take this one everywhere you go. However, sometimes doing something completely unrelated to the game works better, for example, taking the dog for a walk at an off-leash dog park or beach or busting out your washer to give the car a good clean. If you are playing away from home, perhaps some yoga will do the trick. 

If it’s not that, do anything that will help to put your mind at ease. It is just as important to have a strong mind as it is to have a strong body.

How else can rugby players improve their mental fitness on matchday?

First, What Is Mental Fitness in Sport?

Mental fitness in sport is when an athlete is able to think and prepare in a way that positively impacts their performance. They have the mental strength that can regulate negative thoughts and increase their focus on the tasks at hand. Matchday mental fitness revolves around preparing for a performance that day and mitigating any anxiety or feelings of doubt that could creep in. However, matchday mental fitness is also about mitigating any overly positive thoughts and feelings that could make the athlete complacent and lose focus.

Just like how we can train our bodies to improve physical fitness, there are techniques, products and methods to improve our mental fitness.

Products to Boost Immediate Mental Fitness

There are some products and supplements on the market to help with immediate mental wellbeing. Check out the Swisse Men and Women Ultivites for example. These can offer mental support during stressful situations for all players, which may be needed right before a big game. 

There are other products you can buy that will help, including a simple stress ball. Some people feel agitated and full of energy while waiting for a match. Using a stress ball to exert some of that energy while practising breathing techniques has proven to help athletes. It will help you sit still and conceal any worried emotions from teammates as well.    

Long-Term Mental Training for Best Results

Although there are ways to boost your instant mental wellbeing, as explained above, the best way to have strong mental fitness on a matchday is to train your mind long-term. Having overall mental fitness is designed to improve your ongoing focus, but also to improve your reactions when feeling immediately overwhelmed or anxious about performance levels.

This means rugby stars should create a mental fitness training programme and stick to it just like they stick to a strict diet.  A mental fitness programme should include:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Positive imagery (imagining yourself performing how you hope)
  3. Affirmation statements (telling yourself you can and will achieve what you want)
  4. Performance reflection
  5. Components that promote general mental fitness, such as meditation, healthy nutrition and good sleeping patterns
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Who Can Help with a Mental Fitness Plan?

Elite-level athletes will have access to sports psychologists who can help devise and implement a robust mental fitness plan. Their expertise and techniques will be tailored to each player’s mental needs, similar to how a personal trainer will adapt their plans for each player.

Amateur rugby players and aspiring stars should learn to develop mental fitness early. An ideal place to start is to look at resources online, listen to relevant podcasts and learn more about sports mental fitness.  The Canadian Sport institute has even created a site with resources to help athletes to recognise their mental wellness.  

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