I hesitate to mention on St Patrick’s Day that Wales beat Ireland on Saturday (and I was there).
It was an intriguing match, but the biggest cheer of the day came after Wales were awarded a penalty after successfully defending some 7 minutes of Irish attacks close to their line. For non Rugby fans, the two videos included in this Wales Online article illustrate what happened.
That amount of tackling requires both courage and physical resilience. Indeed you can see players being hurt in a tackle, take a second to check that there is no serious injury, then get back into line to tackle again.
More important is the mental approach. The idea of going through phases is that gaps eventually appear in the defence through which the attacker can run and score a try. That they did not succeed is a tribute to the mental toughness of the Wales team in keeping going and operating their defensive systems.
The model of Mental Toughness that we use (from AQR and Prof. Peter Clough) is based on the 4 C’s of Control, Commitment, Confidence and Challenge. How did these apply on Saturday?
Control – they believed that they could control the situation (despite not having the initiative). They could also control their own emotions (for instance by not panicking) and also influence the emotions of their team mates by encouraging each other.
Commitment – they committed to a clear goal of preventing Ireland from scoring a try, and to maintaining their defensive system. They also made a massive commitment to achieving that goal, and the possible cost of getting hurt.
Confidence – they demonstrated individual confidence in their own ability to keep to the system, and to keep tackling. Additionally, they showed interpersonal confidence in influencing each other to keep to the system and tackle, tackle, tackle. Luke Charteris describes some of this in the article.
Challenge – they are prepared to take risks to achieve their goal. For example one or other may rush out of the line to tackle a player before they have any momentum, leaving a possible gap to be exploited if they got it wrong. And if they made errors, they would adjust for the next phase.
You can see how these factors interact, and how external input can have an effect. For example, training increases confidence and readiness for challenge. The experience of defending in other matches helps.
This example resonates with me as a one eyed Welsh Rugby fan, but it should illustrate even to those who dislike sport how mental toughness influences performance.
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