The mental and physical side of injuries

Written by Pierre McLeod (pierre_mackie)

Posted in :Original Content, Super Rugby on 18 Mar 2014 at 10:24
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“Pieter-Steph du Toit out for season. Etzebeth crocked as well. This is what happens when you expose 21 year olds to this draconian schedule”

This is what one journalist tweeted about the recent injuries of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was injured during training last week, and Eben Etzebeth. Etzebeth wasinjured during the last Springbok test of their End Of Year Tour.

Many will have different opinions on whether these guys are actually too “young” and their bodies are not yet fully developed for the physical contact that Super Rugby or International Rugby brings week in and week out. Should these guys be better “managed” to assure these sorts of injuries does not happen?

These guys are being managed from a young age already. Most of our top schools in South Africa are actually more professional than what we think. These are not guys that have never touched a rugby ball and are expected to go play a full 80 minutes of Super Rugby. These guys have come through the ranks and if for any reason they immediately get exposed to Super Rugby straight after high school, they still get managed at their union. All top unions have trained personnel that are capable of managing bodies and fitness levels and making sure professional players are in top condition to play at the highest level.

Injuries happen – it’s part of any contact sport and one’s body is not necessarily more prone to injury just because you are 20 or 21 than a player playing at the same level who is 25 or 26. Your body just gets more used to the bumps and bruises you encounter on a weekly basis, the body adapts to the physicality the more you play.

I wanted to get a more professional opinion, so I asked Tim Goodenough. Tim’s speciality is high performance in elite athletes. During 2008 he was the full-time mental coach for the Sharks, and worked with the South African and Irish Men’s and Women’s hockey teams and more recently was the mental coach for the NMMU Madibaz and the 2014 Junior World Cup winning u19 South African cricket team.

Now, the following is not a direct cause of their injuries, but Tim did mention a few interesting things and looked at it from a different point of view.

Obviously Tim cannot comment on the above mentioned injuries but something interesting he said was; “if a player is negative or stressed, their body does not recover properly (from injuries or even a very intense workloads) and with young bodies and big workloads this causes problems.” Mentally if you are hard on yourself or a perfectionist, it could also raise a player’s risk factor of getting injured. The positive side of being a perfectionist is that it drives you to work incredibly hard, the negative side is that is can affect confidence, and can also stop your body recovering to its maximum, which over time raises the risk factor – more details how that works here

Its interesting that its not just about pushing yourself physically but also mentally that can put you at risk of injury. Perhaps players feel the pressure to perform, to keep their place in the team or putting that extra bit in to impress the Springbok selectors.

Tim also said negativity plays a big role, and if you have not got a healthy and strong mental mindset it’s easy to fall into that negative trap.

“If you stay negative your body does not recover as well and eventually breaks down. This negativity could be caused by trying to live up to an incredibly high standard and failing by your own personal review, similar to what happened to Jonathan Trott. I would wager he would have broken down earlier if cricket was a contact game, but even without the collision aspect, things fell apart for him.”

There are so many young talented players coming through our ranks, but too often they have one good season or even just a few good games before injury hits. Its not just Pieter-Steph du Toit or Eben Etzebeth that have been struggling, look at Paul Jordaan and Tim Whitehead, even Sergeal Petersen struggled with injuries throughout last year’s Super Rugby. Johan Goosen looked promising about two seasons ago, but has struggled since, and even Elton Jantjies is struggling to get back to his best form.

So the question is really; are we exposing our young talent in South Africa to too much at a young age or are we not preparing them mentally to deal with the injuries that are part of a contact sport like rugby? Or perhaps are we preparing them mentally to deal with the increased focus, hype, pressure and expectation of Season 2?


  • We as supporters definitely “hype up” players and thus putting pressure on them to perform. They obviously read our criticisms and then try to live up to that hype.

  • Comment 1, posted at 18.03.14 10:36:25 by Son Of Mayhem Reply
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  • Very thought provoking article. Hope those in the top are aware of this.

  • Comment 2, posted at 18.03.14 10:36:39 by Caratacus Reply

  • This is a great article Pierre. Thanks for taking the time. I guess it just once again places emphasis on the need for mental coaches at unions and similar organisations. I think it’s unfair to expect youngsters that may have matured physically but not mentally to cope with hype, expectations and personal standards on their own.

    “According to recent findings, the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s.”

  • Comment 3, posted at 18.03.14 10:57:51 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Great article. Never thought of it till now but does make perfect sense. A players attitude during rehab is also key as to how well the injury heals and is strengthened.

  • Comment 4, posted at 18.03.14 11:21:10 by SheldonK Reply

  • Super article Pierre, very very interesting stuff

  • Comment 5, posted at 18.03.14 11:59:35 by Ludz Reply

  • Good article. Let me be controversial and add in the steroid taking frenzy factor. How can the SA U/20 side’s pack weigh the same as the springbok pack? Surely not from eating and drinking more protein ?I think people have their heads in the sand about this.
    Another factor is the money aspect where young people are being paid large amounts of money and do not know how to handle that. Most agents do not help these youngsters ? Add Arno Botha to your list.

  • Comment 6, posted at 18.03.14 12:01:55 by Observer Reply

  • @Observer (Comment 6) : I think you bring up two important questions. 1) How much of a factor is steroids in rugby and what is the cost of this (in all forms) and

    2) How much is having poor money management sense and skills impacting careers? I have been attending wealth seminars and reading books to try to understand the wealth mindset and skills needed (for me and my clients) as I have found in Golf in particular, where 4 days can make a you a millionaire, not dealing with beliefs about money has impacted performance more than pressure, or game related issues. I am guessing for some rugby players the same challenges will occur, but over longer periods of time.

  • Comment 7, posted at 18.03.14 12:17:19 by TG Reply

  • @Observer (Comment 6) : Well you are def not wrong

  • Comment 8, posted at 18.03.14 12:17:49 by SheldonK Reply

  • @TG (Comment 7) : thanks for your input Tim, appreciate

  • Comment 9, posted at 18.03.14 15:51:27 by pierre_mackie Reply
  • @TG (Comment 7) : ja – always nice of you to pop in here, Timbo! Hope you’re keeping well bud

  • Comment 10, posted at 18.03.14 15:58:50 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @pierre_mackie (Comment 9) : @robdylan (Comment 10) : Always happy to assist. Keep up the awesome work πŸ™‚
    PS Nice to see Sharks on the up and up isnt it? πŸ™‚

  • Comment 11, posted at 18.03.14 18:37:35 by TG Reply

  • @TG (Comment 11) : fantastic! Now if I could just get you and Jake to have a tete a tete about the one last piece….

  • Comment 12, posted at 18.03.14 18:43:30 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Almost missed this little gem!

    Very interesting.

  • Comment 13, posted at 18.03.14 19:23:32 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Interesting thanx Pierre. I would love to see some true research on this though.
    I have an affinity for Brendon Venter’s rotation policy not only to spare the players but also to keep a full squad game fit.

  • Comment 14, posted at 18.03.14 21:56:05 by KILLER SHARK Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
  • It’s probably anathema to fans, but coaches should be more responsible when selecting very young players and encourage/instruct them to be more careful and circumspect with their bodies on the field.

    We worship players for playing with reckless abandon, but how much value has an injured player for himself and his team? Zero. Contrast a player like Matfield who took flack for skirting the rough stuff, but perhaps as a consequence had/still has a long career and was/still is able to add value way beyond the violent collisions we so revere.

  • Comment 15, posted at 19.03.14 03:09:37 by fyndraai Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • @fyndraai (Comment 15) : a bit off the topic, Victor got a lot of flack for returning can anyone remember what the vibe was like when Os returned to the playing field?

  • Comment 16, posted at 19.03.14 06:26:15 by pierre_mackie Reply
  • @KILLER SHARK (Comment 14) : you will prob find every player/injury will be a case on its own, but just interesting how the mind plays a role in the healing process and overcoming injuries

  • Comment 17, posted at 19.03.14 06:30:55 by pierre_mackie Reply
  • @Observer (Comment 6) : I know a few of the young players who have moved to both the Sharks, Bulls and Province, many of whome have taken performance enhancing stuff at one point or another. I know that earlier on in the Varsity cup it was both condoned and encouraged.

    The problem is, the size of a modern rugby player is unnatural, very few people can naturally get that big. So yes that is a big problem in sport and for young players.

  • Comment 18, posted at 19.03.14 08:09:16 by Seth101 Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter Author
  • @KILLER SHARK (Comment 14) : Agreed and I still think coaches will eventually have to embrace a proper rotation policy although I suspect most will be forced into that decision kicking and screaming.

    @fyndraai (Comment 15) : Very interesting comment that. It would require a monumental shift in mindset and most likely in the rules too.

  • Comment 19, posted at 19.03.14 09:42:06 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @Seth101 (Comment 18) : Were these performance enhancing meds of the legal or illegal kind?

  • Comment 20, posted at 19.03.14 09:59:17 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • @Salmonoid the Subtle (Comment 20) : Very few sups don’t contain some form of banned substance. But in this case several did take steroids.

  • Comment 21, posted at 19.03.14 10:11:29 by Seth101 Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter Author
  • @Seth101 (Comment 21) : Thanks.

    And when was the last time anyone has heard of a rugby player testing positive for a banned substance. This is not good.

  • Comment 22, posted at 19.03.14 10:31:11 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • @Salmonoid the Subtle (Comment 22) : Well when was the last time you heard of any rugby player being tested, other then world cup squads. Its a joke actually.

  • Comment 23, posted at 19.03.14 10:48:11 by Seth101 Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter Author
  • @Seth101 (Comment 23) : Clearly, maybe Morne can find out how many tests were done in the last year or so. I suspect you are right – zilch.

  • Comment 24, posted at 19.03.14 11:23:58 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • Been looking at the current injury list for Super Rugby teams at this point of the competition. Note that this might not be 100% accurate but its close enough. I added Flip and Paul Jordaan on as they were the ones I could immediately tell weren’t listed.

    Stormers 8
    Chiefs 7
    Brumbies 5
    Hurricanes 5
    Blues 4
    Lions 4
    Bulls 4
    Highlanders 3
    Crusaders 3
    Rebels 3
    Cheetahs 2
    Sharks 2
    Force 1
    Waratahs 1
    Reds 0

    Total 52

    Highest injury by type – Knee (17)
    Highest injury by position – Lock (9)
    Average age of players injured – 26.01 years old
    5 players who are younger than 23 years old

  • Comment 25, posted at 20.03.14 19:40:53 by gregkaos Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author

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