Mental skills strategies England share with the All Blacks
Written by Simon Austin — July 3, 2018
WHEN England take on Colombia this evening, their players will be trying to stay out of the red and in the blue.
Gareth Southgate and his players use a principle called ‘red head, blue head,’ which was developed by a Twickenham-based company called Gazing Performance. The New Zealand All Blacks - who had previously been labelled chokers - hired Gazing in 2010 and went on to win two Rugby World Cups.
Red head is distracted, anxious, stressed. If you want to see a working example of this, re-watch England’s capitulation against minnows Iceland at Euro 2016.
Blue is calm, focused and on-task. For that, think of Jonny Wilkinson scoring that extra-time drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. Midfielder Fabian Delph has spoken about the importance of the principle during his time in Russia.
“A lot of the game is mental and how to keep a calm mind," he said. "We have looked at different ways on coping and it’s eye-opening. It is just how to reset your mind if you make a mistake.”
Gazing call this process 'rebooting' and encourage players to develop cues to switch from red back to blue. For All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, his cue was to stamp his feet on the turf; for his successor Kieran Read it was to look to the far reaches of the stadium.
Gazing CEO Martin Fairn was one of the speakers at our Cohesive Coaching conference in Manchester last month and gave an insight into the work his company does. You can watch an excerpt above.
One of the biggest challenges for Gazing is getting athletes and teams to realise that mentality is a skill that requires coaching, just as passing or shooting do.
“One of the biggest reasons mentality doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves is because it’s seen as a problem, not a skill," Fairn said. "The implication when you talk about it as a skill is it will have components, like any technique, that you have to learn and understand.”
Gazing’s principles have travelled from England rugby to England football via the New Zealand All Blacks - arguably the most successful outfit in all of world sport.
Brian Ashton introduced them to the RFU more than a decade ago when he was in charge of their Academy. That was where Stuart Lancaster, then head of elite player development, came into contact with them.
When Lancaster was appointed to an FA advisory group (also including Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford) by Dan Ashworth in 2016, he introduced the concept of red to blue to English football.
Gareth Southgate has been an enthusiastic advocate and England fans will be hoping their team stay out of the red and in the blue against Colombia tonight.