With the difference between success and failure in sport sometimes down to just the narrowest of margins, more and more teams and individual sportspeople are seeking out expert off-the-field assistance and guidance that they feel they can help to give them the extra one per cent that can sometimes be enough to turn defeat into victory.
One of the changes off-the-field at the Ospreys this season has seen the introduction of a leading sport psychologist, Dr Steve Mellalieu, to work with the players and coaches to provide support and education right the way through from the age grade set-up to the senior team and staff.
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. Originally hailing from Ospreylia, he is now spending time with the region each week, making himself available to meet with players and coaches on both a group and one-to-one basis.
Speaking about his role within the Ospreys set-up, Dr Mellalieu said:
“It’s very much a proactive role as opposed to a reactive one, where I look to educate and arm the players with the necessary coping skills and techniques to deal with the various the demands of professional rugby. These guys already have good psychological/coping skills in order to have got to their respective level and a lot of time it’s just a case of helping them refine these skills. There is no mystique to the techniques and tools we look to develop with the players - just as the other support staff focus on physical, technical or tactical development so my role is to work to develop robust coping skills such as handling pressure, managing confidence and maintaining focus during games, all of which are factors commonly associated with mental toughness.
“It’s very much a ‘Stretch’ role as opposed to one of a ‘Shrink’, which is often a common perception people have of sport psychologists. Of course there are times when the players will need more focused support, particularly in dealing with unexpected events, such as long-term injuries. In fact a large part of my role is taken up working the Sports Medicine and Conditioning team to help players manage their injury and maximise their rehabilitation efforts to ensure they return to action stronger, fitter, faster and mentally tougher.
“I think it’s going every well, I’ve been tremendously impressed by the attitude and dedication of all the individuals in the region I’ve worked with so far. There is a healthy environment of openness and willingness to work together towards excellence, which is a refreshing change from a lot of professional sports environments I have experienced. Despite the outside perceptions of ‘Galacticos’, the players are actually extremely grounded and focused professionals, who are ably supported by excellent coaching and support staff. Right through from the age grade to the senior team, everyone is working together to sustain a high performance environment and further engender the winning culture.”
Andrew Hore, Elite Performance Director at the Ospreys, explained the reasoning behind bringing Dr Mellalieu into the environment:
“Mental skills training is one of the six pillars of development, and it is important that players and coaches alike are proficient in this area, just as they are in areas such as tactical and technical. They need to be mentally strong, with coping strategies for areas such as stress, pressure, motivation and decision-making.
“It’s an often overlooked area of development, but is often an area where big games are won or lost, as individuals or teams haven’t given the attention they should to developing that all important mental toughness that sports people and the media often talk about. Winning teams or athletes have that strength, and are able to react positively to adverse developments or conditions, and we want to develop that side of our players.
“With Steve on board we can offer more focused assistance in this area which can only have a positive impact on the group. If we want better players, then we have to support them in all areas of their ongoing development, which includes their mental skills.”