Archives For Psychology


“I am delighted that this article has been contributed by renowned Physical Performance Coach, Grant Jenkins from propelperform. Grant is a graduate of the famed Stellenbosch University in South Africa and has (among other sports) worked in both professional tennis and rugby. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and has been good enough to share some of his insights into the importance of taking charge of your own (coach) education”. Although directed at Rugby Coaches, this article is relevant for coaches of all sports, and at all levels of competition…

After reading this, I encourage you to explore Grant’s work (links above) and other valuable contributions to coach and player development.

So over to you Grant…

Last week I was interviewed for KickCoachingTV – a fantastic initiative that addresses all things coaching.

During the interview we had a brief discussion on the value of mentors before addressing other potential pitfalls that could trap coaches.

Since the clip went up I have been asked to expand my thoughts on this topic so thought I’d write them up.

To give yourself the best chance to succeed as a coach, having a mentor is a great place to start. However, there are two other valuable sources of information that you could be losing out on. Read further…

The Mentor

Without going into too much detail (as there are plenty of articles addressing this elsewhere), having someone to talk to that has made many of the mistakes you’re about to make is fantastic.

Probably the most important aspect is having someone who has been around the proverbial block a few times is that they can keep you focusing on the basics, the fundamentals.

They don’t’ get caught up in the hype, they’ve seen it all before.

Personally, back in the 90’s, as a young S&C coach, I could stand on a Swiss ball as long as anyone. In fact, I pictured my own facility as having nothing more than a few balls and plenty of space. Why wouldn’t I? It was the latest trend…

My mentor, Mark Steele, reminded me to keep focusing on improving my teaching of squats, cleans and bench press.

Now as I mature as a coach, I’ve noticed my programs change less, are more stable, and I swing less with the trends.

So, find a mentor that has seen it all.

The Peers

I am ashamed to admit that it took me a long time to understand how much I could learn from my peers; coaches who were at a similar stage of the their journey, and similar environment, to me.

My attention was so focused on what the ‘elite’ were doing that I forgot to look around me.

Fortunately, realising that while two hours of ice baths, massages and IV fluids might be ideal, the fact of the matter was my athletes had parents who needed to get them home so they could eat dinner and do their homework.

The interesting part about this group of coaches is how willing to share information everyone is. At every level, in almost very sport, I have been amazed at how my peer group has been at opening up.

So while it might be far more sexy catching up with the professional coach who leads his well-paid athletes, see how much you can learn from the amateur club coach who can only access half the field, with bad lighting.

I bet you’re going to be astounded.

The Mentees

There are two major benefits with having people to mentor.

The first benefit is that the up and coming coach is often going to expose you to information. Yip, that’s right, they’re going to educate you!

Remember when you read everything you could get your hands on? Watched every VHS tape (stop reading now if you don’t know what that is) that you or one of your buddies imported?

Well, that is them now: thirsty sponges trying to soak up every bit of information.

Now some of that information might not be new. Sure, it’ll probably be repackaged, but the fundamentals will be something similar to what you learnt about a few eons ago.

This is a good thing because I bet there are good aspects to your programs that you have forgotten to include lately, and these mentees will remind you.

The second major benefit is that mentees will question almost everything you do (don’t bother with them if they don’t).

While they won’t cause you to deviate from your ‘tried and tested’ programming, they might expose a few ruts you’ve fallen into lately.

A benefit for you and your athletes!

Just remember, the goal of having a mentee is not to clone you, but give them some tools that will make them more successful.

So there we have it, three levels of learning that shouldn’t cost more than a few cups of coffee but will be invaluable in professional development.

Below is the link to the full video recording on KickCoaching TV with Grant Jenkins, discussing “Coaching Pitfalls”…

By Stuart Lierich & Grant Jenkins

To give yourself the best opportunity to achieve peak performance (Kicking), it is critical to apply a holistic approach to your development. A balance between the Physical & Psychological components of training, coaching and performance must be your priority. Many players and coaches have fallen into the trap of focusing only on Kicking Technique in practice, when a well rounded training program is the only way to improve a player’s overall performance.

One such subject, and certainly one of my favourites, is the use of Mental Imagery. (Or if you like: Visualisation or Mental Rehearsal).

The use of Mental Imagery has been proven to improve the execution of a variety of skills in Sports. The use of various techniques is a staple inclusion in my coaching of Rugby Kickers. I will state, however, as with anything in a coaches process or program, any success with this begins with Player “Buy-In!” This is not a quick-fix strategy, but rather a tool that will improve and serve you over time. The best rugby kickers never leave home without it!


So What are Mental Imagery Techniques?

Well, firstly, we are NOT talking about daydreaming. And most certainly this is not idle thinking…

Effective use of Mental Imagery is a SKILL, and takes some effort to get good at. With regular application in your training program you will enhance & compliment the Physical work you are doing to improve or refine your skill.

Yes, But What Do I Do?

The use of Visualisation (MI) is the art of being able to create ‘Mini-Movies’ in your mind of the situation that you want to happen. In terms of kicking, you will be picturing yourself kicking in a game situation, paying attention to correct technique and successful execution…..This is a powerful development tool and will greatly assist your skill development…

I have found it easier to trust the system & process, rather than try to understand the science. To know this works and how it is applied should be your initial goal. Many articles have been written if you seek some scientific basis for these methods…

Kicking 3

Try These Simple, Practical Tips:

Me Time – Find yourself a quiet, perhaps dark space to lie or sit comfortably. Ideally you will not want to be distracted for at least 10 minutes…

* State of Mind – Make sure you are relatively relaxed before you start. Being stressed WILL NOT HELP. Maybe you could create a music soundtrack that gets you in a positive emotional state?


* Physical

Picture yourself in this mini-movie. You must see clearly the kit that you will be wearing. What colour is it? Socks up or down? What sponsors are on it? Notice all the details about yourself on the pitch…

* Environment

Picture the exact surroundings you will be kicking in. You could picture your home pitch or stadium? Or perhaps you are playing away this week? What does the pitch look like? Grass or Mud? How well are the lines marked? What about the crowd? What does it look like? What does the atmosphere sound like? Aroma of pies and chips?  Keep it Real!

* Task

The third and final critical inclusion is to picture the skill you will be performing. In this case kicking, and for most specifically Place Kicking. A research study in 1999 concluded that for self paced skills such as kicking, players are better served visualising in the third person. Of course that is the view as if you were looking at yourself with someone else’s eyes, and not through your own. Make sure you rehearse all aspects of your routine, as you intend to perform in real life. You can even do it in slow motion, intensifying the effect. Smooth, Effortless and Successful. See the ball clear the cross bar, watch the two flags go up. Did you hear the whistle? Did you kick the winner? Make sure you handle the pressure and distraction with ease….

Throughout the whole process you need to ‘seed’ the feeling of confidence and excitement. Feel the elation of a successful conversion…This is not silly, it works! 

Arnold Schwarzenneger had been famously quoted after his first Mr Universe Contest Victory, that he had already been there in that winning situation many times before. 

Imagine like it’s happening right now, then & there!

* Please watch the short video clip below for a visual summary of how to successfully apply these techniques to improve your kicking game…

By Stuart Lierich

A lot of research has been dedicated in the last few years to the effect that “focus of attention” has on skill execution and performance. Here, I am referring to the key areas visually that an athlete will focus when executing a skill, as opposed to the method of which a coach will direct instruction verbally. Championing the cause, is Joan Vickers, a professor from the University of Calgary, Canada. Vickers’ research focuses on how cognition influences and guides decision-making in motor behaviour. Vickers’ discovery of “quiet eye” (QE), a short period of time when the eye’s gaze is stable on spatial information critical to effective motor performance has been a massive discovery. Coaching practices in sports such as Basketball (Free Throws) and Golf (Putting) have proven very successful.

So what does this all mean?

For a start, we will put the “physical” elements of the technique of place kicking to one side in this article. The above mentioned research has shown that both less skilled and highly skilled athletes have improved skill execution with the adoption or adaption of QE in their routine. I personally incorporate this into the psychological aspects of my coaching, but I must say with Rugby Kicking it is still rare to find a coach that does. Effectively I have taken the core of the QE concept and adapted it to my coaching process with the kickers I work with. For less skilled players, I still highly recommend the development of sound technique as a priority. QE will not mask poor technique. For skilled kickers, this has proven to provide the extra “one percent” to players needing to consolidate their consistency under a variety of conditions.

Do you know the saying “The Eyes Have It?” Well in the case of place kicking, very much so!
Throughout a player’s place kicking routine, the eyes are processing information from the immediate environment. The optimal information ONLY is required for effective focus of attention.

If you are a player, how many times do you gaze back and forth between ball and target? How long for? And coaches, are you aware of the “visual” routine of your kickers? Are they easily distracted? A great discussion point there, distraction, but we will come back to that….

Taking credible QE putting coach practices, we should direct our concentration to the objects (targets) that matter in the process. In Place Kicking we have two (2):

1. The Target ( To me the outcome target is between the uprights, but more specific than this is to create a Target Focus Point, such as a tall middle goal post or structure/person in the distance)

2. The Correct Contact Point on the Ball

QE in Action…..

At the “gather” point in your routine (before you begin to approach the tee), take a concentrated look at your Focus Point. This only (should be for a second, or so). Your radar command will have been started when you placed the ball on the tee as well, so no need to prolong here.

Bring a direct line back to the ball, finishing at the contact point you wish to strike. I like to imagine a tight string running from my target focus back through the ball, but it’s up to you.

At this point your eyes shall remain fixed on the ball contact point for approx 2-3 seconds (tests have shown this to be optimal for cognitive processing). Herein lies the challenge, you are to ONLY focus your attention (eyes) on the ball’s contact point. A tip to assist you may be to draw a black dot on the ideal contact point to highlight the ball’s focus point. My coaching instruction to players using QE is to imagine the black dot, even if none actually exists on the ball. This is quite a powerful aspect of the QE process, and an element that has improved goal kicking performance of those I’ve coached. The black dot concept seems to tie the whole QE process together for me.

From here begin your approach to the tee as you would normally, ensuring your eyes are still fixed on the ball through the kick execution. The key is to trust yourself with this. I am reluctant to say “keep your head down” as I prefer to educate players that it is the eyes we wish to remain in the “Zone”. A lifted head during a kick, of course will de-rail a positive outcome, but I like highlighting this with the importance of concentrated vision.

Vlok Cilliers, the Blue Bulls (Super Rugby) Kicking Coach gave me a great tip on a recent catch up. He uses a tennis ball under the chin of players that lift their head too early when kicking. Although perhaps not for every player, I have adopted this with success where some technical emphasis is required. Simply ask the player to kick (with ball under chin) and instruct them not to let the ball fall out. It is technically a forced way of keeping eyes down, but relatively easy for them to feel the benefits of establishing this head position without being explicitly asked to do so. I often challenge players not to look at the ball flight (or keep a low beam gaze) until after the ball has landed to further emphasise this point.

I trust that perhaps you will, if you haven’t already, give more “attention” to the psychological aspects of kicking in rugby. We cannot coach or improve mental effectiveness in isolation to the Technical, Tactical or Physical elements of the skill, but in my opinion this is the next frontier and one that plays only a small part generally in the coaching process of kicking. An effective focus of attention routine, with quality internal cues, is the difference between a kicker that maintains focus under perceived pressure and another that “chokes”. Please note this is an outline guide only, and no replacement for me actually coaching with you personally. There are a variety of kicking tests a coach may prescribe to determine a player’s susceptability to distraction (including gaze tracker glasses), but I would suggest the basic instruction outlined in this article will provide a positive starting point. And remember, this is a skill in itself, and requires structured practice (under pressure ideally!) to determine the transfer to match day conditions and distractions.

By Stuart Lierich