How do you prepare yourself for a challenge? Throughout my career, I have gone up against better athletes, better players, better scrummagers and vastly superior teams. In these situations it is easy to get overwhelmed, which leads to a sub par game. In my case, I would do three things to help me be ready for these games and I fondly look back on them as some of the most enjoyable times I have had on a rugby field.
1. Prepare yourself mentally to be uncomfortable but ready to work every minute of the game. I went up against South Korea when playing for the Philippines. They were a massive pack and in the first half had been messing with our scrum. I knew that I had a challenge and I was prepared to be uncomfortable, but I was going to fight to keep our scrum on level terms. I didn’t hope that I could do it, I prepared to compete and use my technique advantages.
2. Set yourself process goals. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, setting a process goal allows you to focus on what you control and can perform each time. For me against the Koreans, my goal was to sheer if I felt the loosehead walking around me. The Koreans were putting all sorts of weight on our ball, but because we successfully sheered we were able to deliver clean ball to the backs and attack.
3. Use positive affirmations to build your self confidence and compete at a higher level. My positive affirmation used previous experiences from Australia and the States when I had propped against bigger and stronger opponents. In those games, I got beat when I doubted my ability and I held my own or bettered my opponent when I focused on a positive outcome at each scrum. My positive was “I can win the hit by being aggressive because I’ve done it in the past.”
At the end of the day, the Philippines lost to Korea. We gave them a lead that proved too big to pull back it in the second half. However, all my teammates and I grew in confidence through out the match. We realized that we didn’t have to be a class above, but we had to work hard against a quality opponent by doing the basics well to compete with the Koreans. Our confidence grew with this match and we defeated Malaysia in the relegation match. The next year, the core of the team that lost to Korea competed and won promotion into the Asian 5 Nations for 2013. So before you play a good opponent, prepare your self mentally for the challenge, set your goals around things your can control and build your confidence based on previous experiences.