SEVENS: Aussie men turn to sports psychologist to turn season around

Mens - Hong Kong
by Iain Payten

The Australian sevens team hope the return of Maurice Longbottom and a sports psychologist can help them defy a “pool of death” and make history at the Hong Kong Sevens next week.

Winning a first Hong Kong title since 1988 is the obvious goal but the extra punishment of finishing ninth in Vancouver last start is being grouped in a killer pool featuring heavyweights Fiji and New Zealand - along with Kenya.

With only the top two going through to the playoffs from their pool, the Australians must beat two of the three or they'll miss out on a place in the top eight again.

It’s a tough ask but when asked about he’d approach the tough pool, the positive attitude of coach Tim Walsh had him pointing towards another piece of potential history - for New Zealand or Fiji.

"With excitement and as a challenge,” Walsh replied. 

"I don’t think Fiji or New Zealand have ever been in the bottom eight, so one of them is going to be.”

Walsh welcomed back Longbottom and Tim Anstee from injury in his squad for Hong Kong, which begins on Friday week with a first-up clash against the Kiwis.

"It’s a pool of death I guess. It is a very physical pool, with Fiji, New Zealand and Kenya. We enjoy playing Fiji. We have a very clear game plan when we go out and play against Fiji,” speedster Henry Hutchison said.

"The Kiwis have beaten us easily this year and it is itching to our skin, we hate losing to the Kiwis. I know I do. 

"So we are really focussing on that first game. There is only one game on the Friday night. We will go out there, get the job done and move onto the Fijians, who we know how to play against and then finish off with Kenya.”

The side is sitting sixth in the World Sevens Series standings after a frustratingly inconsistent season that has seen them knock off Fiji and South Africa but only make the semi-finals once in six rounds.

"We are winning some tight games, losing some tight games and also losing some bad games,” Hutchison said.

"We have shown that we can be a top three team throughout the season but we have also shown we can really fall off the pace with the other teams and place poorly. It’s that inconsistency in the team and individual preparation letting us down.”

Aussie sevens captain Lewis Holland added: "We have had some good results but it is just the fluctuations from when we are at our best to when we are at our worst. 

"We can mix it with the best, as you’ve seen in some results against Fiji and South Africa. But there are just those little lapses at times when we get to a 3/10 or a 4/10 that really hurt us and undo we have been training and what we're about.

"It’s about trying to iron out that fluctuation so that a bad game is a 6/10, and not a 3."

The team has tried changed training routines to mirror tournament weeks and Walsh and team leaders have booked extra sessions with a sports pychologist to help the squad with “resilience training” and to handle pressure more effectively.

"I think all sports use psychologists now. There is a lot of research and a lot of people speak highly about them. If you are not using that I think you are behind the eight ball,” Holland said.

Walsh said: "It’s just having some tools to cope with pressure moments. A lot of that comes with experience, but the job as coach to accelerate all those learnings. 

"You look at our games and you hear me talking about it a lot, within our six games four to five of them are going to come down to a pressure moment. 

"So it is about having the experience and the tools to follow the process and put yourself in a mindset to concentrate on that moment, or that job, and not letting pressure - which is a choice - affect the way we play.

"A lot of guys have had pychologists and mentors and different people help them come up with those tools, but we want to further accelerate that and hopefully we can get some valuable information and tools to help us.

"That’s why we are engaging with it to a greater extent but we do struggle to play in those moments, whether it be a pressure thing or a skill thing or a lack of preparation. But we want to prepare the best way we can and it is an avenue we want to explore further to take us to the next level.”

Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens Fixtures, Hong Kong Sevens 

Friday 5 April 

Australia v New Zealand, 10.15pm AEDT  

Saturday 6 April 

Australia v Fiji, 4.13pm AEDT 

Australia v Kenya, 7.33pm AEDT