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Monday, April 02, 2012

Mental Analysis of National Rugby League (NRL); Round 5

Round 5: Parramatta v Manly

“Here we go again; Manly and Parra..”

Parramatta’s win this round means that every NRL team has now won a match, with only Melbourne yet to taste defeat this season. This provides me with an opportunity to dust off one of my favourite quotes regarding winning and losing in sport. It comes from an unlikely source; the female lead in the movie ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ and it goes like this:

“When you win, sometimes you actually lose; when you lose, sometimes you actually win; and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie.”

The message here is that there is more to winning and losing than meets the eye; especially from the mental perspective.

For example, the Tigers won in round 1, but their subsequent performances and results have actually been on the losing side of the ledger. This round they lost but their performance took a step in the right direction. The Titans are in the same boat. The opposite applies to Cronulla, who despite losing in round 1, actually ‘won’ in many ways, as reflected by their subsequent performances and results. Winning often covers up some of the cracks that get put under the microscope after a loss.

This is why I have selected to look at Parramatta’s performance this week. In fact, I have been waiting for Parramatta to win so I could write this analysis of them as they have been mentally poor for a number of seasons now and there is plenty to be learned by looking at why.

It’s easy to stick the boot into a side and throw coins when they are losing and it is amazing how positive the press become after a win. Many post-match articles are talking about this victory as a ‘season changing win’ despite Parramatta still being last on the ladder.

The reality is that they played well and they won one match of football; no more and no less.

The next challenge for the Eels is reproducing their performance; however not everything that happened this week can be reproduced.

For example, Nathan Hindmarsh can’t retire every week to help motivate them; Jarrod Hayne can’t come back from injury every week to ‘fist-pump’ them up and fans can’t throw coins or boo them off the field every match to add fuel to the motivational fire.

What will fill this gap for next round?

Despite Hayne receiving most of the headlines and the credit for the win, it was the improved performance across the team that produced the victory over Manly, even though the Eels still did their best to almost give the game away.

Nathan Hindmarsh put in his typical performance, yet this week the media are singing his praises, especially after ‘that hit’ on Brett Stewart with 20 minutes to go. Hindy makes those tackles every week, so why was his effort on Saturday night considered to be more special than any other week?

Why was Ben Roberts more threatening? Despite throwing a pass over the side line, Roberts laid on both the tries for Hayne to score.

Why was Fuifui Moimoi busting the line almost at will, albeit running through the smallest bloke in the opposition (Daly Cherry-Evans) on one of those occasions?

The word from Hayne himself was it all came down to attitude. Hence, the mental element is the spark that ignites performance; the missing piece in the puzzle of Parramatta’s inconsistent performance.

Producing consistent, quality performance is all about attitude and the Eels have been guilty of only producing it in patches.

Physically and technically Parramatta are a well trained and drilled football team and have been for years. You only have to look at the hi-tech instruments they are currently using in preparing their team physically and technically. Their sponsorship and partnership with the University of New England (Armidale) will only enhance their application of sport science.

The mental element of sport science is the area that has let Parramatta down over the past few seasons.

The ‘streak of ‘09’ was unable to be replicated in 2010, suggesting that no-one bothered to keep the recipe, if in fact a deliberate recipe for that success existed. I suspect it didn’t exist, based on the underwhelming 2010 performance.

A new coach brings in a new recipe for 2011 and the team hits a glass ceiling; unable to win close matches. Not just a couple but almost 10 close matches.

This is not a random occurrence that will be ‘character building’ (Kearney’s words; hinting at the ‘winning’ aspect of losing). In 2011 something systematic brought the Eels undone; they were psychologically lacking. Hence, the consistent close losses.

Specifically, in 2011, Eels’ media conferences were littered with comments that indicated mental errors were the catalyst for their close losses; on one occasion (I believe against the Roosters after leading 12-0) it was admitted that half the team wanted to defend the lead and the other half wanted to score more points. I think that game was lost 13-12.

Witnessing Nathan Hindmarsh throw his mouthguard into the ground after a close loss in 2011 is only character building IF the Eels know exactly what mental skills let them down AND how to correct them. This is the recipe the Eels need.

Without knowing what mental skills are required and how to develop and practice them, the Eels’ players will continue to be thrown in the deep end. If they continue to drown, it’s because they aren’t mentally skilled enough – meaning they lack the mental skills to be able to consistently perform.

New coaches don’t always bring those mental skills to the table; sometimes new players do and the rest of the playing group feed off that. The current view at the club is that the mental element is ok; the rest of the season will demonstrate whether this is true or not.

The content of Shayne’s Round-by-Round Analysis is the property of Condor Performance and can only be reused by getting permission from the author. He can be emailed at shayne@condorperformance.com


3 comment(s) so far

Written by Gerald Haslinger at 10:23 AM, on May 02, 2012

1

The Parramatta Eels suffered another loss this weekend (29/4) but the manner in which they lost was. Being 31-0 down with 20 minutes to go they scored 5 tries and made it back to 31-30 by full time. In post match interviews, players talked about being able to throw the ball around more at that stage in the match. This suggests that the Eels spent the first 60 minutes playing NOT to lose, rather playing to win. Once there was almost no chance of victory, they began playing to win, at last. Players need to motivated to play as though they will win, each time they run onto the park. At the moment the Eels players appear demotivated and driven by a fear of losing AGAIN. Coaching staff have indicated that there is no need for psychological assistance and appear convinced that demoting players (Sandow) to lower grades in an apparent effort to motivate improved performance. Both are perhaps examples of “old-school” coaching for which there is little room in a modern day, high stakes, professional sport.

Written by Shayne at 01:15 PM, on May 02, 2012

2

Hi Gerald,

Thanks for your post.

You make some very good points.

Parramatta’s performance is an example of not being able to compete under pressure. When the result is out of the question (31-0 down) they have nothing to lose and play without any tension or fear as you point out.

The Eel’s history of losing tight games last year is also evidence of this. It’s purely a mental issue and will be the undoing of another coaching career at the Eels if it isn’t addressed. SD

Written by Jess Sea at 01:08 AM, on May 18, 2012

3

I think Gerald’s point that Parramatta’s performance is unencumbered when the possibility of winning is off the table, raises an interesting point in regards to attribution styles and the overall “mindset” of the club at the moment. Have the successive losses and poor performances led to learnt helplessness? Are players chalking up there losses to uncontrollable but stable circumstances? If so, and it is not in the culture of the club to look for psychological assistance, but rather to ‘punish’ players for poor performance by dropping them, this dysfunctional attribution style will only become more insidious and ingrained in the fabric of the club. If so, I fear it will be a rather bleak and self perpetuating season for the Eels.

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