Yorkshire Post Article Summer 2005

One key component in Leeds Tykes' late transformation last season was the input of performance trainers.
Sam Wheeler reports.

'Performance maps', 'red and blue thinking', 'an awareness of the psychological factors': these concepts sound far removed from scrummaging and tackling but they played a major part in delivering Leeds Tykes from the brink of relegation and winning them the Heineken Cup.
Of course, there were other reasons why the Tykes were able to turn their season around but there is compelling evidence to suggest that Gazing Performance Limited's involvement was vital.

Before director of rugby Phil Davies enlisted the help of the Surrey-based firm, who have worked with the England set-up, they had lost nine of their previous 10 Premiership matches and were favourites to go down. With regular input from Gazing, they won five domestic games in a row to rise to eighth in the table, win the Cup and qualify for the Heineken Cup.

According to their publicity, Gazing is "a training company that helps teams and individuals reach high levels of performance particularly in pressure situations".
Some players were initially sceptical - perhaps having visions of David Brent arriving in a backwards baseball cap to play 'Simply the Best' - but Davies says that the whole squad was soon won round.

He said: "One or two players who always make hasty decisions about things said 'yeah, whatever' but at the end, they realised it wasn't a load of gobbledygook.
"It helped. There is no doubt about it. From my point of view, it was a profound experience. I have had loads of psychology thrown at me over the years as a player and a coach but this was the most logical way of looking at things. It was down to: you know what your job is, get on with it. Simple.

"It is about highlighting that. They talk about your primary issue being your control of attention. You can either have a negative outlook on things - red thinking - or a positive outlook, which is blue thinking.

"I think that psychology is one of the most under-used areas of professional sport, particularly rugby. A lot of people come in and they spout a lot of textbook stuff that players can't understand.

"If you can't understand it, you can't apply it. That's the key thing with these guys: applying sports psychology in a simplistic way that everybody can understand."

Gazing look at the mental side of sport as a skill that can be practised. "Our job is to give them the mental skill that enables all the other elements to be performed to the highest levels," said director Martin Fairn. "We give players a simple, easy-to-use framework that helps them stay mentally on-task, a performance map that captures all of the areas they need to pay attention to and the things that can divert their attention away from their primary task."

Davies and Fairn cite two examples of incidents where the Tykes' focus stayed true when it might have been diverted.
In the Cup final, Leeds survived the early loss of two injured key players without panicking; in their penultimate League match against Harlequins, Gordon Ross refused to be adversely affected when his intercepted pass gave the visitors the lead.

Fairn said: "Without overly denigrating what other sports psychologists do, some people would have you believe that it is all about positive thinking and belief. But you have to acknowledge risks. Things happen.

"We talked with the players about potential risks to the mental side. We talked about what would happen if they lost players in the final. You have got to focus on what you can control, not dwell on what has happened. Leeds could not worry about the implications of going down. They had to focus on what they could control: passing, tackling, fitness, and conditioning.

"Everyone acknowledges that the mental side of the game is particularly critical at that stage of the season."
There is much more to the professional game than 30 men and a ball these days.