How to prepare mentally for rugby games

Whether you are playing or training for rugby, you will perform better if you are as mentally prepared as you are physically. In games between equally-matched sides, the winners are usually the side with the greatest determination and mental resilience. In the gym, your mindset can make or break your workout.

Some ruggers are blessed with the right mindset or, at least, the ability to turn it on and get in the zone at will. Other players have good days and bad days, often without knowing why. The good news is that you can learn to create the right mindset for optimal performance, and it’s usually a matter of practice makes perfect.

Here are nine ways to help you get in the zone for playing or training for rugby.

1. Develop a pre-game routine

Routines can help get you into the right mindset for rugby. Following a routine takes the guesswork out of pre-game preparation and gives you confidence. If your pre-game routine resulted in success last time, it’s only reasonable to expect the same outcome this time.

For example:

  • Arrive at the venue with plenty of time to spare
  • Put on your playing gear
  • Tape up
  • Warm up
  • Hydrate
  • Practice your kicks, passing, lineouts, etc.
  • Listen to the pre-game team talk
  • Warm up again

Routines are not limited to playing rugby; they can also be useful in the gym too. Use the same setup and pre-lift routine for your gym-based exercise, especially big lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and cleans. Use the same pre-lift routine for all your sets – both warm-up and work sets.

2. Make a pump-up playlist

Music can have a massive impact on your mental state. The right choice of music can energize, inspire, and motivate you to play or train at your best. Most online music platforms allow you to create bespoke playlists and save them to your phone. Some even offer ready-made playlists in specific genres.

Listen to your favorite pump-up playlist before heading on to the field or into the gym to prepare yourself for what you are about to do. If you know there is one particular track that never fails to give you a lift, make sure you save it for when you really need it, such as just before walking out on to the pitch.

Feeling nervous before a big game? Music can help here too. Instrumental music and songs with a slower tempo can help you relax.

There is a fine line between being too pumped-up and too relaxed. If you hit the sweet spot between the two, you will be nervous enough to perform at your best but not so anxious that you make lots of unforced errors.

3. Make the opposition the bad guys/girls

A famous rugby coach stood in front of his team shortly before kick-off. In his hands, he held a rolled-up newspaper. He told his team that, in the paper, he had just read that they were considered to the be underdogs and the opposition had been bad-mouthing them to the press.

Needless to say, this fired up his players, and they went out and dominated the opposition like never before. At the end of the game, the coach revealed there was no mention of his team in the paper, and it was all a motivational ruse.

While you might not have a well-meaning coach to lie to you, you can still use this strategy to get you fired up for your next match. You KNOW the opposition are saying derogatory things about you, and that they already consider the game won. Get out there and show them the error of their ways!



4. Embrace your nerves 

Being nervous is often seen as a negative, but that flood of adrenalin is precisely what you need to perform at your best. Learn to anticipate and embrace your nerves, imagining that those feelings of anxiety are nothing more than increasing levels of energy. If you feel butterflies in your stomach, reframe the sensation and tell yourself that it’s just your body’s way of telling you that you are ready to play.

5. Visualization

Whether you are training or about to play rugby, a few minutes visualizing a successful performance can help prepare you mentally. For example, on your drive to the gym, envision yourself repping out with perfect form, and completing each set in your workout. Before a game, see yourself scoring, tackling, passing, and kicking like a boss.

Mentally rehearsing a successful game beforehand can give you confidence in your abilities and improve your performance. No matter what you are visualizing, make the scenario as realistic as possible. Imagine details such as sights, sounds, and feelings.

6. Turn nervous thoughts into positive affirmations

Your inner voice can have a big impact on your performance. The term “self-fulfilling prophecy” is real! If nerves make you doubt your abilities, you may well find your inner voice becoming negative, saying things like:

  • I can’t handle the pressure
  • I can’t do this
  • We’re going to lose
  • I’m going to make a fool of myself
  • I’m going to let my teammates down

If you say these things often enough, they are more likely to become real.

Instead, turn your negative thoughts into positive affirmations. If negative thoughts can undermine your performance, positive affirmations can help you perform at your best. Just take your negative thoughts and spin them into positives. For example:

  • I thrive in high-pressure situations
  • I CAN do this!
  • We’re going to WIN!
  • I’m going to impress the coach
  • I’m going to make my teammates proud

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7. Revisit previous successes

If you’ve been playing or training for rugby for a while, you have probably experienced at least your fair share of success. You’ll have had great workouts, won matches, or even scored tries or made game-saving tackles.

Get in the zone by revisiting those successes and playing them over and over again in your mind. You succeeded before, and there is no reason for you to expect a different outcome this time. Take this a step further by creating your very own Rocky-style rugby montage or rereading your old training diaries. Let your past performances inspire you.

8. Get inspired

If your own performances aren’t enough fire you up, try watching or reading about your favorite teams and players and stand on the shoulders of giants. Check out these videos to get your head in the zone for playing at your best:

Or, the next time you are heading into the gym, let Eddie Hall’s 500kg deadlift inspire you.

9. Use a pre-workout supplement

Pre-workout supplements don’t just give you physical energy, they can also affect you mentally too. Ingredients like caffeine, St. John’s Wort, gingko biloba, and other nootropics can enhance concentration, determination, and focus. However, you’ll get even more from your pre-workout supplement is you back it up with adequate mental preparation.

Ruggers are a rough, tough, bunch, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to anxiety and self-doubt. It doesn’t matter how physically prepared you are, if you start to doubt your abilities, you will not play (or train) as well as you could. Time spent on mental preparation can help you play and train at your best.


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