Rugby Psychology: England – Fly Me To The Moon!

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Rugby PsychologyWhen the late Brian Clough managed Nottingham Forest, he was prone to conduct unusual team-talks. For example, he would go into the dressing room pre-match and say. ‘Right Lads. Close your eyes’. Then Brian would take a song from the Frank Sinatra songbook, such as Fly Me To The Moon and sing it. To the team. On conclusion of the song, he would say,’ I’m a good singer arent I lads?’ Now go out and show everyone what good players you are!’

Cloughie wanted his supreme confidence to become the players supreme confidence. His sense of freedom, to become their sense of freedom. Two European cups and a League Title show the merit in his methods. He believed that players didn’t need a lot of information in order to play well. If you encourage them to trust their instincts. then good players will play. One wonders what Brian Clough would have made of England’s sorry World Cup exit on Saturday night.

We live in an age where there is so much information available to modern sports coaches. You can video analyse every moment of every game. Sports psychology models such as Sir Dave Brailsford’s Marginal Gains Theory; Dr. Steve Peters Chimp Paradox; right back to Tim Gallway’s Inner Game Theories and countless others, are all tried and tested and free to apply. There is simply no reason to be under-prepared!

But perhaps this is also part of the problem. Or at least one that beset England coach Stuart Lancaster. This was a man who left no stone unturned in making sure England were ready for this World Cup. An organised and diligent man, he wasn’t going to fail through being under-prepared.

But clearly being well-prepared isn’t enough. For his team fell well short of what was needed. As Peter Moores showed with the England cricket team, an analysis based approach to performance can inhibit natural talent. Players are thinking, ‘what does the coach want me to do here?’…rather than trusting their natural instincts. And in the time they take to make a decision, razor-sharp opposition are carving holes in their defence.

Stuart Lancaster may be given the benefit of the doubt by his RFU paymasters, and get another World Cup campaign in four years time to prove himself. If he does, then he may want to consult the Brian Clough songbook of team management. Pick the right players. In the right positions. And let them go out and play. It’s a simple game, that over-thinking can complicate!