As rugby players, whether we play competitively or just for fun, the very nature of the game means we must be physically prepared to endure 80 minutes of relentless bashing and putting our bodies on the line. And no matter what level we play, we're there to win. To win each individual battle against our opposite number, to win each collision encountered, to win the match and to ultimately be crowned ‘the best’ come the end of the season.
In order to taste this success we give up our mid-week time for training, as well as putting our bodies through the mill in the gym.
However, one particular area of preparation that is often overlooked and neglected is…
To be successful, you must have belief. You must have a positive mental attitude and the ability to visualise and feel success, firstly in your mind. If you have the correct mindset then you can achieve anything. ‘Your attitude determines your altitude’.
Pretty much all professional clubs now employ sports psychologists to improve performance. I recently had the delight of picking the brains of mental performance coach Camille Charbonneau who works with top rugby players and athletes. She also shared her passion for playing the game in her home country of Canada, and how grassroots players could benefit from training their minds as well as their bodies.
Camille, I believe you have a real love for rugby. What attracted you to play and what advice would you give to other females who may be interested in the sport?
I started playing rugby in high school when my basketball coach suggested I try it out. It worked out perfectly, as once the basketball season was over, rugby season began.
After high school I continued to play mostly for fun and because I loved to be part of the community and the camaraderie associated with rugby. I think it’s a great sport for women and girls as it teaches females how to be disciplined, perseverant and confident. Playing rugby also teaches leadership, respect, and many other skills that are transferable to everyday life. My advice would be to try it out and embrace how powerful it can make you feel!
When and why did you first become interested in sports psychology?
I first became interested while I was doing my bachelor degree in Phys. Ed. I had some sport psychology classes and I really found it interesting how the mind works, specifically in sport and performance.
I went on to do my masters in Sports Management and had yet another performance psychology class in my first semester. It was then that I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in sports psychology because I wanted to help athletes perform. I ended up staying in Sports Management for a year, just so I could play varsity rugby, then I switched programs!
Sports psychology and mindset are now used worldwide on the big stage. How important is it and what is the main role of the sports psychologist?
The mental aspect is so important and we do not give it enough credit. You can have the best skills on the field, but if you choke under pressure, you will not be able to perform at your best.
We need to train our minds just as we train our body, and not many people realise that.
As a mental skills coach, my job is to give athletes the tools and strategies to produce good performances on a consistent basis. If an athlete can learn how to increase their awareness, manage stress and anxiety, switch their negative self-talk to positive self-talk, and set goals properly, their confidence will be increased and thus their performance will reap the benefits.
My main role is to help athletes, not only by giving them tools and strategies, but also offering support, and making sure they're prepared for aspects like injury, as well as the transition phase out of sport. The skills they learn are transferable to everyday life, and so training their brain should be part of their daily routine.
You have worked with athletes from a range of sports. Are there any significant differences needed in the way you approach each sport or is it a case of 1 fits all?
Whether you're an athlete, musician, business leader or teacher, you're there to perform.
The basic skills I teach my clients are the same, but there is no cookie-cutter approach. Everyone is different and thus learns differently and has differing needs. The way I work is that I try to change their behaviour in the most realistic way as possible.
My job is to guide my clients in finding what works best for them. It’s not about re-inventing the wheel. There are strategies and tools that each athlete has used in the past - it’s about tapping into what works and building on that. So no matter what the sport, the way I will approach it depends on each individual. The sport does not matter for the client, but it does matter for me as I have to learn about the sport so I can completely understand their “story” and help them to the best of my abilities.
Just how important is mindset in rugby?
Rugby is different than most sports because you have to be aggressive for a whole 80-minute game. You have to be prepared both physically and mentally. You'll often have little control of what goes on around you, but as long as I can get my athletes to learn how to focus on the controllables (themselves), they will be able to perform much better.
For many rugby athletes, the mindset before stepping onto the pitch is very important as they will be throwing their bodies around. As long as an athlete can figure out what they need to do and feel in order to get into “the zone”, they will be able to stay aggressive and have less risk of injury. Most of the time this looks like developing a pre-performance routine and realizing what kind of energy level the athlete needs to be at as they step on that pitch,
Are the techniques you use exclusive to professional athletes or do you think people playing at a lower or amateur level could also benefit?
I use the same techniques with all levels of athletes, and even non-athletes. Everyone can benefit from mental skills training as the mind plays a big part of how we act and perform.
What advice would you give to amateur rugby players to help improve performance in terms of psychology?
My advice would be to learn how to reflect and become more self-aware.
This is the first thing I work on with all my clients. Give yourself goals for games and practice and learn how to reflect and evaluate your performance. As soon as you’re able to do that, start writing down things you need to improve, as well as things that went well that need to stay consistent. This is the first step to sports psychology and improving performance because without reflection, it is hard to understand and realize how and what aspects can be improved.
Do you have any techniques/strategies to share with our readers to help prepare for a big game?
In preparation for a big game, stay focused by referring back to your goals - this will help you stay on task and not worry about the past or future. Trust your skills and have fun. This is easier said than done, so to help - write down a list of your strengths. Look over the list before the big game and get excited!
Have confidence in what you know and what you’ve been practicing, and the rest will follow.