Life lessons: What England men’s Six Nations rugby team teaches us about resilience

27/02/2017  -  12.46pm

Tracey Devonport, Sports and Exercise Psychologist

Tracey Devonport looks at what can be learned about mental toughness from this incredible sporting turnaround.

Managing adversity

In a modern society where tolerance of failure can be low and fear of failure paralysing, it is important to learn how to manage adversity. England Rugby has shown that it is possible to create a climate where growth follows failure. This is something everybody can learn from.

There are three important factors that may have contributed to England Rugby’s remarkable turn of events: maintaining belief, learning from mistakes, and being able to adapt quickly. These three success factors have wider application, including for university studies.

Maintaining belief

England Rugby comprises players, coaches and support staff - all team members share a belief that their individual and group skill sets and execution is world leading. This belief provides a valuable resource in overcoming adversity.

From such belief, a mind-set of growth can develop. This is characterised by the idea that ability can be built upon gradually over time. England Rugby did not allow themselves to be defined by their poor world cup performances; rather they looked to find ways of building on them. As a student, the same philosophy applies.

When receiving assignment feedback, don’t focus solely on the grade, carefully read the detailed feedback to identify what was good about your work and what could be improved. Adopt a growth mind-set; believe that you can develop your abilities. Rather than ‘I can’t do it’, think ‘I can’t do it yet, but here’s how I can work on that’.

Learning from mistakes

Some people hold a belief that ability is innate and unchangeable – they tend to focus on outcomes, and are susceptible to fear of failure. Under these conditions mistakes can have undesired consequences. For example, errors may ramp up performance anxiety and increase distracting thoughts, such as worry and self-doubt.

This can create ‘paralysis by analysis’, whereby a person, or a player, overthinks basic skills, such as passing and receiving. This hinders their ability to attend to and read the game, and slows responses to changes in play.

As a student, remember that trial and error is part of the fabric of learning. It underpins personal development and success. Embracing your mistakes can help to build an ability to cope with failure, which in itself can provide great feedback.

Adapting quickly

If points one and two are addressed this will follow naturally! If you are not fearful about making mistakes,self-doubt and procrastination will fall away. As a student, have you ever found it difficult to start writing the next assignment because you cannot stop thinking about what went wrong last time?

There is a lovely saying that may help you move beyond a fear of making mistakes in producing assignments: ‘don’t get it right, get it written’. By making a start and getting your ideas down on paper, no matter if they are relevant or random, you are starting to sculpt and reflect on your ideas.

Thinking about these three points will help to enhance your resilience and positively build upon your performances at university – you’ll go from strength to strength just like the England team!