By Kimber Rozier, CSCS, Pn1 – Saturday is a rugby day. We love that. It’s your time to shine and show what you’re made of. Of course, you spend the six days prior training with your team, smoothing out the kinks, and dreaming of diving over the try line. You’re well-prepared rugby-wise, so what can you do in the hours leading up to and hours following the match to make sure it all comes together?
There’s nothing worse than showing up at the pitch to realize you’ve left your boots at home. Or wake up the morning of the match feeling sluggish. Believe it or not, there are lots of little things you can do to prevent these stressors.
To help you conquer pre-match jitters so you can show up in top form, include these 9 habits in your game preparation routine.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
I can’t stress enough how important sleep is. Sleep deprivation directly affects athletic performance – making you more sluggish, slower to react, and even weaker. It’s not just staying awake all night that does it but partial sleep deprivation as well. Maybe you just get a bad night’s sleep. Or maybe you only sleep for a few hours. These circumstances can lower your performance on game day as well.
The mechanisms and neurotransmitters that influence sleep also regulate mood, attention, memory, and pain. The better night’s sleep you get, the better you’ll feel on game day and the more you can focus. A good night’s sleep will prepare you to be in position to put your body on the line in the last 5 minutes of the game after a grueling match.
Sure, it can be hard to sleep if you’re excited about playing rugby. But take extra measures to ensure you get a deep, well-rested night:
- Turn off your electronic devices an hour before bed
- Drink some warm decaffeinated tea
- Slap on an eye mask
- Put in earplugs
- And sleep in a cool environment.
Of course, there are lots of other factors at play, but sleep is just one important tool in your tool box.
Visualization and Mindfulness
Mindfulness might be a buzzword, but it just means your ability to stay within the moment. In a rugby match, things are changing from second to second. If your attention isn’t directly focused on what’s happening in front of you, a scrum half might just blow by you. There’s no room to dwell on mistakes, think about what might happen if the ball comes to you, or wonder what you’re having for dinner.
Yet we’re all human, and these thoughts can creep in your mind during a match. To help avoid or minimize it, in the days (or weeks) leading up to a game establish a cue to bring you back to the moment. Practice taking a few deep breaths and really focusing on your breathing. Or maybe write a word on your hand that tells you to refocus. Anything that will help control your thoughts and attention will do.
However, this won’t happen naturally so you should practice. Just as you train your body, you also need to train your mind. The good thing is – this can be done anywhere. While you’re sitting in class, if you find your thoughts wandering off topic, use your mindfulness tactic to come back to the present. Each time your thoughts travel away, just practice bringing your attention back. This way when it’s down to the wire and you’re called to kick the winning penalty, you can slot it without a worry.
Making sure you have the right nutrients to power your performance is critical. It starts a few days before the match. You want to make sure you’re getting in lean proteins, whole grains or complex carbs and good fats on a daily basis.
As a rugby player, you need to be able to produce maximum power as well as run and move through varying intensities over an entire game. Your main source of fuel will be carbohydrate, and you’ll want to make this a focus of the dinner before the match.
Shoot for a good serving of something like whole grain pasta, potato, wheat/rye bread or even exotic grains (buckwheat, barley, millet, etc) alongside a lean protein option and minimal fat. You still want to have a good balance of macronutrients, so it’s not an excuse to gorge on white pasta.
Related Article: The Nutrition to Perform on Rugby Game Day
About an hour to 30 minutes before the game, have your quick digesting carb + protein drink or snack. This could be a smoothie, quick yogurt with fruit (depending on your dairy tolerance), or even some pre-match chews (I love gummy bears). Immediately before and during matches is one of the only times that simple sugars will help your performance.
Like I said, carbs are going to fuel your output. Sugary carbs get into your bloodstream quickly, so the faster you can get the nutrients in, the faster they can get to your cells to provide energy.
This is especially important if you’re playing in hot weather or at altitude. But regardless, your cells need water to function normally. When you’re asking them to sprint down the field and run into a wall of people repeatedly, they need extra.
In the days leading up to game day, be sure to drink at least 0.0333 liters per kg of body weight at a minimum. Assuming you’re training, you can probably do with even more than that.
Before and during the match, you’ll want a bit of extra electrolytes and sugars to fuel a long game. Feel free to dilute your favorite electrolyte/carb drink (Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade, etc) in a solution of mostly water. That’ll help keep you fueled and hydrated without the annoying sugar crash.
The easiest way to check if you’re adequately hydrated is to check your urine. It should be clear before the match.
After the match, rehydrate immediately. If you can measure your pre and post match body weight, consume about 1.5L of water per kg of weight loss. That means if you lose 2kg from sweat, you need to drink 3 L of water just to get back to baseline.
Pack Your Bag Early
Pack your rugby bag the night before. Just do it. You don’t want to be rushing around worrying about where you put your mouthguard when you’re running late. It helps eliminate stress and leaves you going into the game confident and ready to dominate rather than anxious. Make sure to check off all the items you need the night before and then AGAIN before you leave the house.
Double check for:
- Game socks/shorts
- Jersey (if the team doesn’t bring them for you)
- Food you plan to bring
- Water bottle
- Tape or pre-wrap
- Scrum cap
- Shoulder pads
- Whatever else you particularly need to perform.
Arrive 30 Min to an Hour Before
This can vary depending on how your team is run, but no one likes that player who shows up late. If the team has to wait on you, it limits time they can run through warm-up. Stress over being late can hinder your performance if your focus drifts.
And your body needs a good priming for injury prevention – a proper warm-up and activation takes time. Make sure to get there in time to get your boots/equipment on, start an individual warm up and focus on your goals. The few extra minutes before team warm up are great to walk through plays or lineouts, refine your passing technique, do some one-on-one tracking, or whatever else is critical to your game.
There’s a term in psychology known as “decision fatigue”. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you’re making tons of decisions – what shoes to wear, which route to take to work, what to have for breakfast, and more. All of these decisions can really tire your brain out and cause decision avoidance and impaired impulse regulation. Basically, it makes it harder for you to make good decisions on the field.
Establishing a routine can limit the number of decisions you have to make on match day. Get into the habit of:
- Eating the same pre-match meal
- Having your clothes ready the night before
- Doing the same warm up
- You can even go as far as putting the same shoe on first
Whatever you can do to free up your mind. Rugby matches require so much effort from your mind and body, so take good care of them.
Prehab, Warm-up, and Cool Down
For injury prevention, mental preparation and activation, a proper warm-up routine is key. You’ll want to kind of “turn on” the motor units that groove certain movement patterns (sprinting, rucking, getting up off of the ground, etc).
Additionally, a well-structured warm up can get blood flowing throughout the body and help range of motion while activating stabilizing muscles (core, rotator cuff, glutes, and more). A greater range of motion, to a point, will allow for joints to move a little further before injury. Priming your core, glutes, shoulders and neck will help lock everything into place before you have to brace yourself for impact.
Take at least 15-20 minutes to move through hip mobility, shoulder stabilization, anti-extension and rotation core drills, and light impact drills for your neck/spine. Finally, make sure to end with high speed, game-like movements such as jumping, sprinting and exploding off of the ground for nervous system excitation purposes. And because it makes you feel awesome.
After the game, your adrenaline is raging and your cortisol is likely through the roof. Take the time to bring your body back to baseline. This can involve tactical breathing and slower, more extended dynamic stretching. Recovery is really important, as prolonged stress can have lasting negative effects. And as soon as that whistle blows, it’s time to prepare for the next match.
Rugby is a game and should be treated as such. Above all, it should be an enjoyable time to smile with your friends, score tries, and appreciate your opponents, refs and fans. Doing all of the above things will help you keep a positive mindset and enjoy each moment of the match. They will also make it easier to dig deep and fight until the final whistle. Games are often the most fun when you can bring your A game. Whatever you play for, the 80 minutes on the field should be a time to express yourself. Enjoy it!
How do you prepare for rugby game days? Send World Rugby Shop your routines. Add your comments below.
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union and as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C. She is currently training with Harlequins in England.