Posted by: Nick | 2009-08-01

Need some advice

This question doesnt have that much to do with fitness but im sure you can still help me as I know you have worked with the SA sevens squad and probably have some knowledge regarding sports psychology.

Im 16 and currently attending a rugby college in the UK run by the premiership side, Saracens. A typical day would be an hours weight session, an extremely hard conditioning session which could last anything between 5-15 minutes and then an afternoon rugby session. From this you can probably tell this is a hard day even for the best of us and I have recently become very tired and hurt in some places and rely on my mental strength. Anyway ill stop babbling and get to the point, I dont think im reaching my full potential and have fallen behind in terms of the rugby, im not really doing that well and I find this extremely demoralizing and I need some advice. I respect that your the " Fitnessdoc"  and not Peter de Villiers but I believe that your advice would be valuabe especially with your experience with the SA sevens team and obviously if you know anything about sports psychology, motivation and mental toughness you will be able to help me. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Our expert says:
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Hi Nick

Thanks for the question - I hope I can help. You're in a difficult situation. If I was to look at you in isolation, I'd say that you are training too hard and you need to back off the training and recover, because it sounds as though you are in danger of overtraining. However, you are not in isolation, you are part of a team, and so therefore you can't simply pull back and do something that the other 29 guys might be doing.

And mental toughness can take you so far, but eventually the physiology will win. Mental toughness is crucial, don't get me wrong, but if your body is not adapting to the training, then there will come a time when you simply "fail" and your body gives out completely. So I think it would be over simplistic to rely on mental strength alone!

How are the other guys in the squad coping? Is there any chance that everyone is failing and heading for injury? If the majority of the guys are battling, then you can take some heart in the fact that you're among the strongest still. However, if you are alone feeling so tired and physically drained, then you need to take some steps to manage yourself so that you can dedicate more physical effort to the training. Are you eating well enough, for example? Do you take the steps required to recover after training? Are you sleeping well, and long enough to recover?

In our Sevens set-up, we've tried to implement systems that allow us to monitor every single player's wellbeing, both physical and mental. We have questionnaires, completed daily, that give the coach and management and indication of who is coping and who is not. I'm just trying to imagine what it would be like for you, if you were filling out our forms. We would pick up that you are tired and injured, we would then speak to you and find out what is wrong, and we would then look at adjusting your training, even if it meant sitting out for two days, or for one session per day for a week. The key is that you can't fit everyone into the same system and expect them to thrive. We've recognized that - I don't know if your college coaches have or not?

So I guess what I'm saying is that you are not in an uncommon situation. With SA Sevens, we've designed methods to help us manage individuals. And we're quite open to the idea that guys will need a break now and then. So if your coaches are the same (which I'd hope), then perhaps you need to raise this problem, and say that you're injured. I guess the difficult part is that you are in effect "competing" in training over there and so to ease off is to "lose the competition". But you should not see it that way - you need to find what is optimal for you. Take control of your own training and recovery. That means maybe seeing someone about diet, looking at a supplement for use after training, changing your routine outside of training (because being burned out is not simply about exercise, but rather everything in your life), and managing other stresses

I hope that helps a little - remember also that the season will go in cycles, and so maybe the coaches are trying to break down the players for now, but they'll seen ease off. Therefore, rugby might not be the priority for the next while, and you should not frustrate yourself wanting it to be right away. I don't know the context of the training you're doing, apologies.

Good luck

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