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  • Writer's pictureSPRINT project

Rugby World Cup 2023: Getting and Staying Mentally Fit

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Are you an avid rugby fan? Rugby fans around the world are geared up for 7 weeks of world class viewing as they immerse themselves in the Rugby World Cup 2023.

How do elite rugby players prepare mentally for high-pressured competition? Read on to find out about how psychology plays a vital role before, during and after this time.

Those who play rugby at the elite level must manage complex feelings and emotions to allow them to perform at their best when it matters most. The World Cup puts players at the front and centre of the world stage with thousands of people in the stadiums and millions more watching around the world.

Supported by sport psychologists, elite rugby players engage in Mental Skills Training (MST) to develop and use appropriate mental strategies to allow them to work positively towards a set goal (i.e., winning a match in the World Cup). Imagery is an effective tool that is used by world leading athletes to mentally prepare, often using an additive step-by-step approach, for executing specific techniques or running through potential scenarios. Another mental skill that is in an athlete’s toolbox is breathing exercises. By deep breathing, for example when getting ready to enter a scrum, an athlete may encourage the down-regulation of their nervous system, which may help them to feel present and engaged, and reduce any unhelpful tension.

Just as athletes use mental skills to succeed in elite competition, we can compare their experiences to our own and reflect on the mental skills that we use to appreciate and manage different feelings and behaviours, and to reach our goals. For example, have you ever been to Go Ape with family or friends, or completed a similar adrenaline-based activity? Did you want to have fun with the rest of the group and successfully complete the challenges, but were conscious about the height of the canopy or speed of the zip wire? What kind of feelings and emotions do you remember experiencing, and did you use any mental skills to help you to have an amazing time?


As well as developing and using mental skills to optimise performance during world-class competition, in their day-to-day lives elite athletes must also manage the demands of being in the public eye. In the England Rugby Podcast – O2 Inside Line, England Full Back Freddie Steward recently spoke of his experiences around public scrutiny and associated negative social media comments. To support his mental wellbeing, Freddie explained that he limits engagement with social media, and instead focuses on interactions with and feedback from those closest to him.

Freddie also spoke about how working with a sport psychologist has greatly benefited his performance and training. The mental skills that sport psychologists help athletes to develop and use in world-class competitions are also beneficial to all of us in our day-to-day lives. Learn more and access our free mental skills resources via our website here.

You can check out a clip from the podcast via Instagram here and the full podcast here.


We would love to hear about your thoughts on the Rugby World Cup and who you are supporting! Let us know in the comments below.

You can also check out our interactive MST tools on our web page here.


Photo credit: Canva.

Written by Dr Sally Reynard, Research Associate in the SPRINT Project.

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