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Improve Your Mental Strength

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England’s Chris Robshaw on how to train your mind to help in the gym, a match or in the boardroom

Chris Robshaw knows a thing or two about inspiring his peers and overcoming adversity. Going into the 2013 6 Nations, the England captain was the favourite to lead coach Warren Gatland’s Lions squad on their summer tour of Australia. With England unbeaten going into the final game of the tournament, he was on the verge of taking his team to their first grand slam for a decade. Instead, his squad was annihilated 30-3 by Wales, who overtook England on points difference and lifted the championship trophy. Worse still, in Gatland’s mind it made Robshaw and many of his team-mates look mentally weak in high-pressure matches. In the space of 80 minutes, he went from probable Lions skipper to being left out of the 37-man squad. It would’ve crushed lesser men, but Robshaw kept his head down, worked hard and built up his self-belief. One year later he was the one lifting the Triple Crown trophy, his redemption complete. So we asked him for his golden rules that any man can use to get better – no matter what their goals.

1. Never stop learning

You know those guys you see in the weight room or in a high-pressure meeting who take everything in their stride? Don’t just think you want to be as good as them – figure out what they’re doing and emulate it. “Even now I continue to learn tricks of the trade every time I go against a new captain,” says Robshaw. “From how he talks to the ref or how he reacts in a certain situation. You’ve always got to try to evolve and get better. Personally, I can’t even watch a game on TV any more without analysing it; I watch rugby and think, ‘Would I go to corner, post or scrum?’ I’m always trying to learn.”

2. Don’t let pride hold you back after a mistake

It can often be hard to ask a fellow gym-goer or a respected colleague for advice. But whether it’s a deadlift or client presentation, sometimes the only way to improve is to get other people involved. “When I was first made captain at Harlequins I was trying to do everything; I got too involved and my own game suffered as a consequence,” Robshaw admits. “One of the senior guys said: ‘Look, back off a bit. We’re here to help.’ They took some of the workload and that’s how I’ve continued until now. There are so many leaders within the team; they can take responsibility as well and you can take an overview of it all.”

3. Think about your support network

Unless your gym’s different to ours, you’re not completing those final reps with 80,000 people watching, like Robshaw gets at Twickenham. But we all have our supporters, be they a best mate, girlfriend or parent. So when you need an extra boost, visualise them cheering you on. Do it for them and you’ll do it for yourself. “After 70 minutes on the rugby pitch, it’s tough. You’re exhausted, your lungs hurt, you’re puffing, you’re looking for that extra half a per cent,” explains Robshaw. “When you’re hanging on in there, you’re fighting for everything, mentally that’s when supporters are fantastic.”

4. A clear head beats self-doubt

If you have a triathlon, an inter-office 5-a-side or even a job interview coming up, it’s easy to let worries creep in. Robshaw banishes these by ensuring he’s done everything he can in advance. “Make sure you’ve done all the relevant prep,” he advises. “Make sure you turn up ready and know exactly what to do. For me, that’s things such as sin bin strategy or a lineout call. If you’re not worrying about anything, you can really focus on your task.”

Robshaw spoke to ShortList at the Wear The Rose event, hosted by O2 and Oculus Rift in association with England Rugby

(Image: Rex)

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