International rugby demands a unique mix of speed, strength, power and lean muscle, alongside the ability to take a hit and recover fast. With the Six Nations kicking off this weekend, Coach’s sister publication Men’s Fitness speaks with members and staff of the Welsh national team to help you stay on top form.
Step 1: Be Mentally Unbreakable
Elite-level performance starts in the mind. Up your game with advice from Wales and Lions flanker Dan Lydiate
Have A Routine
According to a 2006 study from Duke University in the US, 40% of your daily actions are habits, not decisions – so make them good ones. “I have the same routine before every game – getting strapped, getting limber,” says Lydiate. “When you start your career as a player you don’t have a routine, but then when you find things that work well – stretches or mental warm-ups, even a song you always listen to – you keep them in place.” Keeping to a regular morning routine – even if it’s just coffee, to-do list, stretch – automates good behaviour and makes it mindless.
Move On From Mistakes
“Mistakes will always happen in a game,” says Lydiate. “But once it’s happened, you can’t do anything about it. Focus on the positive and move on to the next thing as soon as possible. As long as you try to learn and improve as a player, you’ll do better.” Once you’ve done everything you can in the moment to fix things, forget it and move on – the mistake is officially over, even if you have to carry on dealing with the consequences.
Take Time To Assess
“Most nights I have a good stretch, which is my time to reflect on the day’s work,” says Lydiate. “We have apps that let us watch the week’s training, and I’ll have my notebook there to jot down things that worked or didn’t, things I need to work on. My role in the games changes from week to week as well, so I’ll jot that down – you don’t have the same moves, set moves every week. It’s about having a reminder there.” Whether you’re focused on the gym or your job, scribble down something you did well and an area for improvement each night before bed – and remember to refer back to it.
Use What Works
Eye-bulging pump-up speeches or cold, hard logic? “We use both, to be honest,” says Lydiate. “A lot of players like to be shouted at, but a lot of players like to keep in their heads, get on their headphones or just sit in silence. It’s quite individual even though it’s a team sport, and the best captains know when it’s time to scream and shout, and when it’s time to focus on details.” Studies suggest that overexposure to stimuli can actually lead to a reduced response – it’s known as “habituation” – so save the adrenaline-pumping music for important events.
Rise To The Occasion
Some commentators suggest that the All Blacks’ haka – the traditional war dance performed before pivotal matches – gives the New Zealand team an unfair advantage. Know who disagrees? The players. “As a player, the haka is one of rugby’s great spectacles,” says Lydiate. “It’s not a daunting thing when you’re facing it. It gets you motivated.” When circumstances are daunting, remind yourself that you’ve trained for this moment, and that all you’ve got control over is your own actions.