Can rugby genius be coached?

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content on 30 Sep 2009 at 15:23

“This guy just has so much time on the ball.” Ever heard that expression? Sure you did.

The aspect of coaching and sport that has always interested me the most is the mental aspect towards different sports, and just how much the mental side of the ‘game’ contributes to the physical, or skills side.

In many ways it is all connected of course. You would have heard that a player is often referred to as a confidence player or that a player has really just hit a bad patch in his career, whether it be through rugby, cricket or any sport really.

This however clearly indicates that there is a definite relation between a player’s form, and his mental state. Most coaches dismiss the importance of ‘mental coaching’ not because it is not important – there are many studies that proves this – but because they don’t understand it themselves.

And it is not only coaches… It is players too. Remember the infamous quote by one of our most celebrated Boks who said “Coach, kan ons nie net die kak uit hulle uit tekkel nie?” (Coach can’t we just tackle the sh*t out of them) when presented with more scientific approaches to the game? No prizes for guessing who said it!

All of this however made me ask one question; “Can rugby genius be coached, or is it born into a player?”

Well my answer is yes and no and I will try to explain.

Yes it can be coached because it is also just simply exercising the most important muscle and organ in the human body, the brain, and no because if you want to do this, the player must be willing to be coached in this aspect of the game.

To some people this comes rather naturally, and the scientists will tell you that a person’s mental capacity or ability and how it adapts, or how adaptable it is, will be influenced by many factors which includes culture, upbringing, social surroundings and many more boring topics I would rather avoid.

The fact of the matter is that some sportsmen and women have developed this 6th sense or extraordinary gift or skill, through coaching of their brain and expanding their mental capacity – either consciously through opening themselves up to specific and specialised coaching in this area, or sub-consciously thanks to their surroundings through the years growing up the scientists are on about.

In rugby specifically however you will hear often that the mark of a special or gifted player is how he reads the game, and through this almost predict plays in advance.

This is mainly achieved through pattern recognition which goes hand in hand with coaching that old brain of yours to read what goes on in front of you, and interpret the outcome. I mentioned before in another article it is what we try to coach players to almost learn their own language, not only through actual communication but to pick up patterns and trends (body movement, ball movement, etc.) in the play of your own team mates and that of the opposition, in relation to field position, and the position of the ball (remember the X, Y and Z axis theory?).

This of course achieved on the training pitch first (where the main problem lies with most coaches) where players are not coached in game specific conditions and scenarios enough in my view.

You see factual evidence exists that we as human beings are actually half a second behind from the real world. It takes half a second for the unconscious mind to process incoming sensory stimuli, yet we are not aware of this time lag.

When you stub your toe, you get the impression of knowing about it straight away. This illusion of immediacy is created by an ingenious mechanism that backdates conscious perceptions to the time when the stimulus entered the brain – we are tricked into thinking we feel things earlier.

So what makes rugby genius possible?

Easy, the ability of sensory manipulation, or training your brain to interpret, or predict the outcome of any specific scenario through coaching the brain, and pattern recognition.

Gives a whole new meaning to ‘head’s up rugby’ or ‘decision making ability’ in rugby now doesn’t it?

Actual examples? Well think of the difference between a Dan Carter and Morné Steyn. The difference between Richie McCaw and Schalk Burger, or the difference between Adi Jacobs and a Jaque Fourie. Now you tell me, who uses his brain more?

Till next time!


  • Damnation!

  • Comment 1, posted at 30.09.09 15:31:54 by provincejoulekkading Reply
  • that last one will be contentious, old friend 🙂

  • Comment 2, posted at 30.09.09 15:42:42 by robdylan Reply
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  • So the time machine actually excist?? 😯 😆

    When reading this – and yes I actually did – I was immediately thinking of Morne Steyn…as I do not think he has the ability to read the game. I put it down to a lack of experience though.

    I do however also believe some people just have the natural ability to do that… ❓

  • Comment 3, posted at 30.09.09 15:54:01 by GI Ice Reply
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  • i was on two weeks ago looking for some stats and on the opening page they had a picture of dan carter receiving a ball, what was unique (at least to me) about the picture was that he was wearing a scrum cap with camera attached to it on top!!!

    I must say i don’t know if saffa teams use this technique, in evaluatiing exactly where the players is looking or how he “reads the game” which to me would entail scanning your own position, your team mates & that of your opponents on the field…

    With techniques like that & other more elaborate ones that someone like morne might know, yes i think you can teach genius

    That said some players are born with it, diego maradona, micheal jordan, you can’t teach sublime skills like that!

  • Comment 4, posted at 30.09.09 15:56:09 by quota Reply

  • Half second behind? My wife’s a few seconds ahead (of me at least). She tells me to do stuff before I even ‘registered’. :mrgreen:

  • Comment 5, posted at 30.09.09 15:58:00 by McLovin Reply

  • @quota (Comment 4) :

    I would have love to see that on video, as I am a huge Danny fan and think he is one of the most cleverer players around..or is it genius?

  • Comment 6, posted at 30.09.09 15:58:19 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @McLovin (Comment 5) :

    And I bet she’s got eyes in her back too!! 😆

  • Comment 7, posted at 30.09.09 15:59:30 by GI Ice Reply
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  • Oh…and I did not know Schalk had a brain.. 🙄 😈

  • Comment 8, posted at 30.09.09 16:01:21 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @GI Ice (Comment 7) : Phsyhic, mind reader, the works. 😈

  • Comment 9, posted at 30.09.09 16:08:02 by McLovin Reply

  • Morné

    Where can I read more about this half second behind business?


  • Comment 10, posted at 30.09.09 16:09:34 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 9) :

    U sure you are not my husband posing as some dude?? 🙄 😉

  • Comment 11, posted at 30.09.09 16:11:06 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @quota (Comment 4) :

    I can tell you NZ are in my mind the undisputed leaders in this field. Most materials I have studied comes from there.

    @McLovin (Comment 10) :

    Google Rita Carter, that would be a good start. She did a book on this.

  • Comment 12, posted at 30.09.09 16:11:30 by Morné Reply
  • I am out though, chat later guys.

  • Comment 13, posted at 30.09.09 16:11:54 by Morné Reply
  • @GI Ice (Comment 6) : i know, same here…just to get a look-in as to what DC sees and how that influences his decision-making…if you think about the two kicks in the hamilton tests…the first one worked…the second one i reckon he messed up because the all blacks has something like a 5 to 2 overlap on the outside & he chose to kick…question is did he look @ the whole backline or did he visualise only one scenario and then kicked?…

  • Comment 14, posted at 30.09.09 16:12:54 by quota Reply

  • @Morné (Comment 12) :

    Any relation to Danny Boy?? 😉 Seeing that he does use his brain..

  • Comment 15, posted at 30.09.09 16:13:52 by GI Ice Reply
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  • And it is not only coaches… It is players too. Remember the infamous quote by one of our most celebrated Boks who said “Coach, kan ons nie net die kak uit hulle uit tekkel nie?” (Coach can’t we just tackle the sh*t out of them) when presented with more scientific approaches to the game? No prizes for guessing who said it!

    I know I am not getting a prize – but it was Henry Lem Honiball…I know that , because I am using my brain by remembering what you said in a post once, a few months back.. 😉

    @quota (Comment 14) :

    I did not see that… 🙁 Out and about doing Mommy stuff..

  • Comment 16, posted at 30.09.09 16:17:27 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 12) : Thanks.

  • Comment 17, posted at 30.09.09 16:20:11 by McLovin Reply

  • @GI Ice (Comment 11) : Just some dude. Or a dude. 😆

  • Comment 18, posted at 30.09.09 16:22:36 by McLovin Reply

  • @quota (Comment 14) : He panicked at the sight of big men in green running at him and bottled it. 😉 😈

  • Comment 19, posted at 30.09.09 16:24:27 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 18) :

    :mrgreen: just some dude…

  • Comment 20, posted at 30.09.09 16:24:58 by GI Ice Reply
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  • C heers a ll!!

    I am out of here!!


  • Comment 21, posted at 30.09.09 16:25:49 by GI Ice Reply
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  • If you strap a camera to your head you will only see where the head is pointing. Could be usefull but it won’t pick up where the eyes are pointing let alone the person’s peripheral vision.

  • Comment 22, posted at 30.09.09 16:28:38 by McLovin Reply

  • @quota (Comment 4) :

    Tiger Woods!! Roger Federer!! Luke Watson!! Pele!! Mohammed Ali!! 😉

  • Comment 23, posted at 30.09.09 16:29:24 by wpw Reply
  • @GI Ice (Comment 21) : Cheerio.

  • Comment 24, posted at 30.09.09 16:31:51 by McLovin Reply

  • @wpw (Comment 23) : Earl Rose. 😉

  • Comment 25, posted at 30.09.09 16:37:59 by McLovin Reply

  • @wpw (Comment 23) : yeah zinedine zidane, zin zan brooke, julius malema, floyd mayweather jr, wayne gretzky!

  • Comment 26, posted at 30.09.09 16:45:48 by quota Reply

  • The greatest players in any sport will they you that natural talent contributes about 40% of the full package. The other 60% comes from good coaching (external) and self-coaching (hours and hours of learning and improving one’s techniques and skills)

    So in conclusion – a gifted player without good coaching & hard work is just an average player…

  • Comment 27, posted at 30.09.09 16:50:05 by blackshark Reply

    blackshark - I'm back!
  • Eddie Andrews.

  • Comment 28, posted at 30.09.09 16:51:16 by McLovin Reply

  • @GI Ice (Comment 8) : i wonder whether he knows….

    there is a quote from corne krige (I think) something along the lines – injury not too serious, went for a scan good thing is that it showed I had a brain 🙂

  • Comment 29, posted at 30.09.09 17:11:30 by rekinek Reply
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  • @Morne. Another one of those long and timid allthough well written and thought provoking topics of yours. Well done 😉

  • Comment 30, posted at 30.09.09 17:19:01 by JarsonX (Insomniac) Reply
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  • @blackshark (Comment 27) : I knew there was a reason I never rose above average. 😉

  • Comment 31, posted at 30.09.09 17:19:38 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 31) : Well, now you know… 😆

  • Comment 32, posted at 30.09.09 18:17:25 by blackshark Reply

    blackshark - I'm back!
  • @blackshark (Comment 27) : Add luck to the equation. Wasn’t it Gary Player who said, “I’ve found that the harder I practice, the luckier I get”?

  • Comment 33, posted at 30.09.09 20:37:39 by Baldrick Reply

  • @Baldrick (Comment 33) :

    I believe he was mocking people who called him lucky.

    It is actually a very clever quote.

  • Comment 34, posted at 01.10.09 07:50:14 by Morné Reply
  • @quota (Comment 26) :

    Julius! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: I have my own idea in wgich “sport” he is sublime!! BUT – end of discussion.

    @Morné (Comment 34) :

    True that

    BTW – Morning All – see its an early morning for a few! 😉

    Well Happy 1 October too all – Oktober…die mooiste mooiste maand! (Remember these words…)

  • Comment 35, posted at 01.10.09 07:55:45 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @Baldrick (Comment 33) :

    @Morné (Comment 34) :

    Very clever indeed… 😛

  • Comment 36, posted at 01.10.09 07:59:19 by blackshark Reply

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  • @GI Ice (Comment 35) : C Louis Leipold. I always knew he was onto something, cos it’s my birthday this month 🙂

  • Comment 37, posted at 01.10.09 09:29:15 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 37) :

    Besides that, I was alos thinking in the lines of CC Final (Last year and this year) 😉

  • Comment 38, posted at 01.10.09 09:38:50 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @GI Ice (Comment 38) :

    they should make “alos” and “taht” and “teh” proper english words… 🙄 :mrgreen:

  • Comment 39, posted at 01.10.09 09:39:52 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @GI Ice (Comment 39) : yeah :mrgreen:

  • Comment 40, posted at 01.10.09 09:53:07 by war1 Reply
  • @GI Ice (Comment 39) : you mena tehy aren’t?

  • Comment 41, posted at 01.10.09 10:23:16 by robdylan Reply
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  • You konw, taht tinhg tehy siad aubot the biarn bnieg albe to rconisgee srcbmlead wodrs olny wrkos for Elgisnh – teird it wtih Zluu and it dn’dit wrok…

  • Comment 42, posted at 01.10.09 11:00:59 by blackshark Reply

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  • @blackshark (Comment 42) :


    Do you think dislexia is like a refers of that tehory? you read right but write scrambled.. ❓

  • Comment 43, posted at 01.10.09 11:11:28 by GI Ice Reply
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  • @blackshark (Comment 42) : Maybe I should try Afrikaans and see if that works….

  • Comment 44, posted at 01.10.09 11:11:34 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @GI Ice (Comment 43) :

    reverse.. :mrgreen:

  • Comment 45, posted at 01.10.09 11:11:58 by GI Ice Reply
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