Steve McNamara is preparing the England rugby league squad for the 2013 World Cup, which starts on 26th October. With most matches taking place in England and Wales, his team will experience great support – and immense expectation. McNamara explains how he’s making sure his players will excel when it matters most.
Preparation is key
I ensure my players can perform under pressure through preparation. It isn’t something you want to start thinking about in the dressing room two minutes before the World Cup final. You’ve got to have the belief already that everything you’ve done up to that moment has been completely right. You accept you’ll experience nerves, but underpinning that is the knowledge that you’ve prepared to the best of your abilities. That enables you to perform under pressure.
Practice makes perfect
Knowing how to play well in big matches is something you can practise. It’s about putting yourself in intense situations in training as often as possible and learning how to deal with them. Players aren’t always under severe pressure in their domestic games, so we try to manufacture it. One way to do this is to pressure-test players in training with tough drills and competitive situations. We then enhance that by making them train at altitude in South Africa, where the lack of oxygen and hot weather add extra stress. It all helps in getting them accustomed to pressure and learning how they’ll respond.
Data is crucial
I don’t consider the use of training data and sports science tests gimmicky. They’re important tools that can enhance any performance programme. When the players understand their training data – what they do, how they perform, how they can get better – it encourages them to raise their game. It’s a helpful form of pressure.
How the players behave when they’re not with the squad is just as important. We want strong-willed people who can look after themselves and bounce back from disappointment, so we encourage the players to take care of everything in their lives, from nutrition to sleep to training. My coaching team and I talk about being ‘on it’ all the time. One of our key sayings is, ‘It’s what you do when nobody is looking that really counts’.
Nutrition is a good example. During an England training camp, the chef and nutritionists make everything easy, but on your day off what are you going to do when you open the fridge? Will you take out the sausage roll or the chicken salad? Excelling in all areas and subjecting yourself to your own pressures and expectations help to prepare you mentally for performance.
Deal with attention
Ultimately, performance equals potential minus interference. All the players have massive potential, but will the attention that comes with being a top-level pro sportsman interfere with that? We tell our players to think hard about it. If they enjoy the attention, we encourage them to use it to their advantage, but if it distracts them, we help them to remove it from their thoughts.
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