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How far can self-belief take you in rugby? The top two inches - Part 1

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Roar Rookie
8th January, 2022
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A lot has been said about the top two inches winning or losing rugby games. But no one really goes on to explain how to win with the top two inches. This article (Part 1 of 3) will explore some of those options.

Back in my playing days, I was thrust into the role of captain-coach, even though I really was a reluctant leader. All I really wanted to do was play some social rugby, and have a few beers afterwards.

The reason I found myself in this predicament was that we were losing badly that year. We were near the bottom of a 12-team competition and were two-thirds through the season. It got so bad that the incumbent coach decided he didn’t want to travel to away games anymore.

In fact, he didn’t coach again. That’s how I got saddled with the role.

That first away game I captain-coached, we were playing one of the strongest teams. They went on to win the competition that year.

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We started off getting our usual flogging in the first half. Their forwards were too big and their backs were too fast and skilful. Not a lot we could do about that. At halftime, I was struggling to come up with a motivational speech.

I don’t know why, but for some reason I decided to focus on the positives and forget about the negatives.

I pointed out all the good things that we had done that first half. I highlighted a player if they made a good tackle, a half-break, or won a line out – anything to be positive. I decided that people already knew when they had stuffed up, so there was no need to rub their noses in it.

We still lost the game by quite a margin, but we didn’t play so poorly in the second half and we didn’t concede as many points as the first half. I thought I could be onto something here.

In the following games, I continued the formula. Reinforce the positive, forget about the negative. People liked having their names mentioned in halftime speeches when they had done something right. There even began some friendly competition to have their names mentioned.

Another item that dawned on me was that we were playing well in patches. Five minutes here, ten minutes there, mixed in with all the usual rubbish we dished up. I informed the guys of this in my halftime speeches.

If we could just keep extending those good patches of play until they all met up, then we would be playing to the best of our ability. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

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The errors began to decrease. More passes started sticking. Moves started coming off. We even started to win our own line out ball and scrums.

Unheard of.

Rugby Union ball generic

(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

I then contacted the Australian Institute of Sport to see if they could point me in the right direction concerning motivation and sports psychology. They were helpful and recommended some books, but they weren´t really what I was after. They were mostly about different people’s motivation levels and how to arouse them all to the same winning level.

But I couldn’t find anything about what I was doing and why it was working.

To cut to the chase, we started playing better and better each week. We just missed out on making the final four that year. It would have been interesting to hang around the next year to see what we could achieve, but I left the town for work reasons.

What did I learn from this exercise? I believe that if you want a team to perform to their full potential, then they must have self-belief and confidence instilled in them. Forget about winning too much if you can’t at least do that.

I also learnt that no one means to make a mistake. No one goes out there to fail (unless they are into dodgy gambling schemes). They don’t need flogging in public to remind them of their shortcomings. Otherwise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they will keep spiralling down into the abyss of dismal failure.

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If I had the time and resources, the next step would have been to tape our games and then to edit out all the mistakes we made. The idea being to show it after training during the week. It would have been a very short program at first, but hopefully it would keep getting longer as the season progressed. Who knows, but I believe it would have worked.

I also believe this concept of instilling self-belief and confidence applies to the most social of rugby players all the way up to international level. They may be elite players, but they are human, after all.

So, if every country has elite players, then what separates the best from the rest? Other than a couple of X-factor players, I firmly believe it’s in the top two inches… and self-belief and confidence is a major part of that.

I believe that a team who truly believe in themselves and have the confidence to carry out the game plan efficiently should beat a team with just a couple of X-factor players.

Therefore, if you can firstly work out how to instil self-belief and confidence in your team, then the rest will fall into place. If you want an example, look at what Dave Rennie is doing with the Wallabies. Ask yourself: what is the big difference between the latest All Black games and the Springbok games?

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I believe that Rennie is primarily about instilling confidence and self-belief in the Wallabies. The ability, confidence and self-belief of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi was also infectious and really lifted the rest of the team.

Has anyone else had any other experiences out there in the field of self-belief and confidence in sports?

I would really like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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