Wales v Ireland – Mental Toughness in Action

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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11 Year Old Develops Mental Toughness

I have been doing work on preparing a Mental Toughness Development Course recently, part of the reason for a lack of posts. One of the points I make is that mental toughness can indeed be improved. It is important in this context to know that the MTQ48 test (the starting point) uses a model based on the 4C’s: Challenge, Challenge, Control (emotional, life) and Confidence (abilities, interpersonal).

I read a good illustration on the Dr Laura site recently. A mother describes the problems her son has, and how she set him a physical challenge – the minor one of walking 200 miles across England, Coast to Coast. Read it here. He says ” I’m not a guy who quits any more.” That means he has already developed more mental toughness, and you can see the link to the 4C’s.

I very much hope that they make it to Robin Hood’s Bay, the end of the walk, and look at the plaque about the lifeboat. That also illustrates successfully overcoming difficulties.

On 19th January 1881, the brig “Vessel” ran aground in the bay. Sea conditions meant that the Whitby lifeboat could not be launched for a rescue. Instead, it was dragged 6 miles from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay through 7 foot snow drifts. This involved 18 horses and 200 men. Once it reached the village, walls were removed and bushes uprooted to make a wide enough passage to the sea. The crew of the “Vessel” were successfully rescued, at the second attempt.

Mentally tough people are not passive, but take action to overcome problems – even if they are 11.

Bye Bye Plucky British Loser

Andy Murray wins his first Grand Slam tournament. Well done him!

What I found interesting from his post match comments was his mention of doubts. These were in his mind before the game, but arose particularly when the match slipped from being 2 sets up to 2 sets all. That was the classic time to lose, as the momentum was with his opponent, and tiredness set in. Instead he won the final set 6-2.

We all have doubts, but need the mental toughness to overcome them, and the techniques to keep them in their place. One element of the mental toughness model I use is confidence. Murray’s confidence is his abilities must have been boosted by winning Olympic gold at, of all places, Wimbledon.

Having won his first Grand Slam tournament, it should be easier to in the next, because he knows he can do it.

We need a new category, for our national psyche as well as for sports jounalism. Plucky British Winner.

Mental Toughness

I much enjoyed speaking about mental toughness to the Dudley and District Business Club last night. A good group of people, a good discussion, and good food as well.

The concept of mental toughness developed from observation of sportsmen and sports teams. The winner is not always the fittest or the most talented: there is a mental element as well. The idea of the mind influencing performance can clearly be related to business as well.

But mental toughness has a much wider application. For example, it is being measured in the education field to improve effectiveness. And a carer has to show huge mental toughness to keep going through what is often an unremitting (and sometimes thankless) activity.

The good news is that metal toughness is something that can be developed through training and coaching – but beware that is can also be lost by stress overload.