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The mental and physical side of injuries

Written by Pierre McLeod (pierre_mackie)

Posted in :Original Content, Super Rugby on 18 Mar 2014 at 10:24
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , ,

“Pieter-Steph du Toit out for season. Etzebeth crocked as well. This is what happens when you expose 21 year olds to this draconian schedule”

This is what one journalist tweeted about the recent injuries of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was injured during training last week, and Eben Etzebeth. Etzebeth wasinjured during the last Springbok test of their End Of Year Tour.

Many will have different opinions on whether these guys are actually too “young” and their bodies are not yet fully developed for the physical contact that Super Rugby or International Rugby brings week in and week out. Should these guys be better “managed” to assure these sorts of injuries does not happen?

These guys are being managed from a young age already. Most of our top schools in South Africa are actually more professional than what we think. These are not guys that have never touched a rugby ball and are expected to go play a full 80 minutes of Super Rugby. These guys have come through the ranks and if for any reason they immediately get exposed to Super Rugby straight after high school, they still get managed at their union. All top unions have trained personnel that are capable of managing bodies and fitness levels and making sure professional players are in top condition to play at the highest level.

Injuries happen – it’s part of any contact sport and one’s body is not necessarily more prone to injury just because you are 20 or 21 than a player playing at the same level who is 25 or 26. Your body just gets more used to the bumps and bruises you encounter on a weekly basis, the body adapts to the physicality the more you play.

I wanted to get a more professional opinion, so I asked Tim Goodenough. Tim’s speciality is high performance in elite athletes. During 2008 he was the full-time mental coach for the Sharks, and worked with the South African and Irish Men’s and Women’s hockey teams and more recently was the mental coach for the NMMU Madibaz and the 2014 Junior World Cup winning u19 South African cricket team.

Now, the following is not a direct cause of their injuries, but Tim did mention a few interesting things and looked at it from a different point of view.

Obviously Tim cannot comment on the above mentioned injuries but something interesting he said was; “if a player is negative or stressed, their body does not recover properly (from injuries or even a very intense workloads) and with young bodies and big workloads this causes problems.” Mentally if you are hard on yourself or a perfectionist, it could also raise a player’s risk factor of getting injured. The positive side of being a perfectionist is that it drives you to work incredibly hard, the negative side is that is can affect confidence, and can also stop your body recovering to its maximum, which over time raises the risk factor – more details how that works here

Its interesting that its not just about pushing yourself physically but also mentally that can put you at risk of injury. Perhaps players feel the pressure to perform, to keep their place in the team or putting that extra bit in to impress the Springbok selectors.

Tim also said negativity plays a big role, and if you have not got a healthy and strong mental mindset it’s easy to fall into that negative trap.

“If you stay negative your body does not recover as well and eventually breaks down. This negativity could be caused by trying to live up to an incredibly high standard and failing by your own personal review, similar to what happened to Jonathan Trott. I would wager he would have broken down earlier if cricket was a contact game, but even without the collision aspect, things fell apart for him.”

There are so many young talented players coming through our ranks, but too often they have one good season or even just a few good games before injury hits. Its not just Pieter-Steph du Toit or Eben Etzebeth that have been struggling, look at Paul Jordaan and Tim Whitehead, even Sergeal Petersen struggled with injuries throughout last year’s Super Rugby. Johan Goosen looked promising about two seasons ago, but has struggled since, and even Elton Jantjies is struggling to get back to his best form.

So the question is really; are we exposing our young talent in South Africa to too much at a young age or are we not preparing them mentally to deal with the injuries that are part of a contact sport like rugby? Or perhaps are we preparing them mentally to deal with the increased focus, hype, pressure and expectation of Season 2?


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