Could SA rugby be blinded by the World Cup lights?
Skewed way in which success is measured adds to SA's woes
The SA effort in Super Rugby this season has fluctuated wildly.
The Stormers have been as capricious as the Cape weather and the Sharks as predictable as the timing of the sardine run.
The Lions have played as if their form is fixed to the gold price, while from one week to the next the Bulls don't know whether they're running in Pamplona or Polokwane.
The one moment they're emboldened, the next emasculated. It is difficult to make sense of their mixed messages but sports psychologist Jannie Putter believes the whiff of World Cup in the air may have something to do with the ebb and the flow of the domestic Super Rugby season.
He argues there may be an element of self-preservation in the way players approach this year's competition.
"Every player will carry the hope that they will be selected for the RWC team," says Putter, who also consults with the Lions. "When you are faced with choosing the risk in a Super Rugby match but you have your sights on the World Cup, you might choose not to take that risk, or limit it.
"That changes from player to player. I'm sure it plays a role with a lot of the top players when they play in Super Rugby. The World Cup definitely plays a role."
SINKING INTO THE AVERAGE
Putter argues in those situations players during the course of the match are more likely to yield to the prevailing sentiment or mood in their team. Part of the problem he says is the way players perceive, and emotionally attach themselves to success and failure.
He used the example of when the Sharks thumped the Lions two Fridays ago. "There was great uncertainty before the game about the result. Everything went for the Sharks on the night and they had this gigantic win. That win stuck in their heads and it probably robbed them of focus for the next game.
"It's not that they were necessarily complacent. The Jaguares went into that game knowing the Sharks gave the Lions a hiding and that they had lost twice to the Lions.
"The Jaguares were absolutely focused. As for the Sharks, they merely tried to repeat what they did the previous week but there was no new mindset or focus," he said.
ON YOUR MARKS, RESET, GO
Putter stressed the importance of teams seeking fresh perspective after a match. They need to hit the reset button irrespective of the result of the previous match.
"How quickly can you forget about success and failure?" asked Putter. "If you take it with you, you carry a burden. Success can also be a burden. It makes you complacent and it puts you in a comfort zone.
"That is the hallmark of the most successful sports folks and teams in the world. For a guy like Roger Federer success doesn't mean an awful lot. He treats failure the same way. He forgets about it quickly and he enjoys the moment.
"The biggest compliment you can get is when your opponent pitches up with everything he has. He views you as a challenge. When you are successful teams or individuals have the mindset that if they can beat you then they can make a name for themselves.
"The more successful you are, the more you have to appreciate the fact that teams will view you that way. Teams will just be on a higher emotional plane against you."
Naturally, getting that message across and making it stick in a team environment is hugely challenging. Yet, some teams, like the Crusaders, just keep on trucking.
"That is the art of coaching," noted Putter. "It is probably why I have a job. You have to be able to read how players react to success and failure. Players who don't dwell on success are easily motivated.
"You have to treat players differently in that respect. You have to get 23 players on the same page.
"If you can't handle failure, you can't handle success."
He bemoaned the fact that the result has become so all encompassing in schoolboy rugby.
"At primary school level so much is being made of success the kids develop an inflated view of success. Success is not a result. It is a way of life. The same for failure.
"At school so much emphasis is placed on a result that kids link their self-esteem and emotions to it. It's up and down. They're not stable."
Putter stressed that success is not measured by trophies but how you make people feel.He believes you make a difference by the impact you have on fans and to what degree other teams respect you."With some teams, the moment they run onto the field, they are hard to like. They employ bullying tactics and they simply don't excite you."We try and cultivate a culture where we play fascinating, exciting, risk-taking rugby that people can excitedly talk about for two, three weeks," he said about the Lions."That's better than playing predictable rugby. I always say, when you're predictable, you're beatable."You have to be adaptable. You must be able to handle change."