Facing up to the challenge

As the new season gets underway at age-grade level and aspiring youngsters get to represent their region on the field, the focus can be very much on which individuals are catching the eye in terms of rugby ability, but for development staff at the Ospreys there's more to it than simply producing better players.

The renowned Ospreys player development pathway has successfully seen a number of players graduating through the ranks in recent seasons, with now established players like Ashley Beck, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb joined in the squad by the likes of Eli Walker, Lloyd Peers and Tom Habberfield, all hoping to be the next to feature regularly for their home region.

As part of the programme, a great deal of time and effort is invested in the holistic development of the teenagers, helping to create better people as well as better players, preparing them well for life on and off the field.

A whole raft of areas are covered with the players including nutritional advice from Jon Williams, official nutritionist to the Ospreys, while Dr Steve Mellalieu, one of the UK’s leading sports psychologists, provides support to the U18 squad in addition to his ongoing work with the senior squad.

A lecturer at Swansea University and currently holding chartered status as a Sport and Exercise Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, Dr Mellalieu has acted as a consultant to a wide range of sports teams and professional athletes across the UK for the past decade. He has worked with the region for the last three years, and he says that the development pathway is probably the most important of his responsibilities.

“Although it is likely they will have been involved in representative rugby previously either through the district system or Regional Age Grade U16s, for many of these players Regional Age Grade U18s represents the first step in the transition to becoming a potential professional player” he explained.

”Not only is there an increase in the level of competition and intensity from the matches themselves, but the demands in terms of the volume of training sessions and time commitment required begins to increase for the players. My specific role is to provide a programme of education and support to the squad to help prepare them for the various psychological challenges that they will face on and off the field in working towards progressing though the rugby ranks and ultimately the goal of being a professional.”

Dr Mellalieu said that while the issues facing players on the field would be the same regardless of whether they are senior pros or young age-grade players just starting off, the work he does with the U18 group is very specific, covering off issues that will have a major impact on their development as both players and people:

“At Regional Age Grade U18s level the emphasis is very much focused on developing fundamental psychological skills through raising player self-awareness about all aspects of their training and performance related to the six pillars of development that contribute to becoming a professional athlete and rugby player (technical, tactical, mental, physical, holistic, nutrition).

“The players are encouraged to evaluate their strengths and weakness and set targets (work-ons) to improve these aspects. The programme is intended to dovetail with the other education and support that is provided from the other support staff across the six pillars. In addition we also seek to cover a number of key areas related to the psychology of rugby such as pre-match preparation, managing confidence and stress, staying focused, and post match analysis, reflection and learning. The emphasis is very much an individual one helping each player to develop a mental skills ‘tool kit’ that they can deploy as and when required.

“The current RAG18s group I have been very receptive to all the workshops and sessions we have been through so far. It is also really exciting to be involved with a forward thinking set of coaches and support staff and I very much look forward to seeing the boys in action over this season and to support their progression hopefully into senior rugby and beyond.”