Home>Cardiff Met News>Dr Rich Neil, WRU Performance Coach and Cardiff Met Reader in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University Professional Doctor

'Different beginnings, one end' - getting the mind right for elite sport



"I had the privilege of starting my role as performance coach with the WRU U20s in October 2015. Led by Head Coach Jason Strange, I was welcomed by a team of exceptional coaches and support staff – many of whom graduated from Cardiff Met – who I've found to be diligent, studious, creative and open-minded. These behaviours and perspectives are represented by the team affording me the time to work with them and the players on setting and maintaining high performance expectations – standards that can underpin a thriving culture. 

Whenever we talk about culture, we are in essence describing the behaviours that we are seeing within a performance environment. Often, exceptional behaviours are driven by high standards that are set by a group of players who are empowered and, as a result, motivated to drive and police these behaviours themselves. Consequently, we (the coaches and support staff) decided in October that the players would set our standards for the 6 Nations and World Cup campaigns in 2016. The result was a list of expectations the lads had of themselves that were organised under 'Attitude, Discipline, Integrity, and Unity' and represented by the mission statement 'Different Beginnings, One End.' This phrase that the lads coined encompasses what Welsh rugby is all about, people originating from different backgrounds and regions to unite for one sole purpose – success in the red jersey. 

We constantly monitor these expectations at each camp and in the lead up to each match, with the lads identifying key expectations that will drive their behaviours for that period. The lads have responded fantastically, pushing each other in a challenging and supportive manner. 

This empowered culture is supported by everyone in the environment – and practising what we preach, coaches and support staff have also identified our high performance expectations to drive our behaviours as a cohesive group.  In addition, we meet regularly with the leadership group of players to discuss the 'living' of these expectations and how we can prepare the players for each match. Preparation is facilitated by working through 'what if' scenarios to provide us all with more confidence on what the decision making options can be before, during and after performance. 

Other work conducted with the players has focused on their pre-match preparation, within match focus, and the importance of constantly focusing on their strengths after training and competitive performances. We have supported the latter through the use of bespoke diaries that encourage such positive reflections – a mindset that will help nurture confidence."