Rugby & CrossFit: Lessons from Sport to Sport – The Mental Aspects – Coach Conor

Rugby is chaotic, like most field sports, and there are lots of ways to achieve success. Teams can counter the strengths of the opposition, or exploit their weaknesses, by playing in different ways. Some teams are heavy and strong, and keep the ball for long periods, some are fast and run around the opposition, some are good at kicking, some like structure, some like a broken field. Unless you’re New Zealand, then you’re good at everything, and it takes 111 years to figure out how to beat you.

As a player, you need to adapt to the conditions of each game, and devise strategies for solving these problems, often under extreme fatigue. You need to be aware of your physical capacity, and how to leverage that to the greatest effect in the execution of your plan, and in coordination with the skills and ability of the players around you.

So, what are the lessons each discipline can take from the other?

Mental Toughness
When you’ve been hit by enough Samoans on rainy Saturday afternoons, you don’t need to do workouts to teach you how not to give up. Watch our resident big Kiwi, Scott, do a burpee workout. He should stop, but he won’t. The atmosphere of the sport, and the need to achieve your goal regardless of the circumstances, means you learn to keep going even when the darkness starts to seep in. Sport can make pushing to your limits a habit. It makes it less a conscious decision, or part of your self-talk, and more an automatic response to the circumstances.

Atmosphere and Encouragement
CrossFit generally has a positive atmosphere, it has taken some of the best aspects of team sport and translated them to a gym environment. Honest effort is respected, and it’s always good to see people encourage those who are still going when their workout is done. In the pursuit of snatch technique or a bar muscle-up, or our best Helen time, we can lose sight of this. Social context is an important driver of athletic performance. Coaches will coach, and provide guidance on how to improve, and hopefully set the tone well. The people you exercise with make the atmosphere.

In Rugby, honest effort is respected. However, if you shave a rep in CrossFit (everyone will see, and the coaches know when it happens) you only let yourself down. If you do it in a match, you lose. Consequently, if you don’t work to your capacity, or to the team plan, players will let you know. The psychological environment can be tough. This happens in any competitive setting, and it’s a difficult to strike a balance between honest evaluation and encouragement.

Competition is many things. It’s a stimulus, it helps us achieve higher intensity, and consequently better results from our training. It’s a skill. Regular encounters with stress, fear, and competition make us better at dealing with them. In competitive CrossFit, this happens irregularly, like boxing we target a competition on a distant weekend and train for it. In field sports, it happens every weekend. I’ve played in many matches where the warm-up included a glance to the opposition and the realisation that they’re a bunch of big lads. Sometimes this gets the better of you, sometimes it doesn’t, but the experience helps you develop strategies to counteract it.

Often, it’s about learning to harness fear to aid rather than hinder performance. In our daily training we can simulate this pretty well. Train with people you know, or get to know the people you train with. Try to beat them.

Crossing the White Line
Try to beat them, and when the workout is done congratulate them, and mean it. Finding perspective can be difficult in the fog of intensity. In Rugby you cross a line onto the pitch, and you can use that to switch your mind to competition, to achieve higher levels of performance, and to ready yourself for some very aggressive behaviour.

When the game is over, you leave it behind. Win or lose, congratulate the opposition. Losing at sport is not losing at life. Neither is winning the end of all things. We have to learn both. In a workout you can sometimes get away with using anger, stress, or any other emotional state to drive your workout. Wash away a bad day at work with some slog. If it works for you: great. Have at it.

In sports you need to find balance. Players who get too emotional for matches often make bad decisions, or execute skills poorly. You need a mix of emotional states, a little fear, a little anger, but most of all you need clarity and control.

Obviously, in daily training it doesn’t pay to be angry all the time. It’s probably not why we’re in the gym. We all can get a little pre-workout fear though, as we know what we’ll feel like in five or ten minutes. This isn’t a bad thing. You can use it, and you may even come to enjoy it. It’s a little perverse.

Celebrate your victories and mock your failures. In rugby, it’s traditional to experience hearty beer consumption post-match. Players may be required to down a pint for offences as grievous as playing well, scoring tries, or making an idiot of themselves. Enjoy the social side of exercise, it’s better than running on a treadmill with your headphones in.

Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t hinder recovery from exercise. Not enjoying everything that taking part in a team sport or a CrossFit box can offer significantly inhibits your desire to continue with it, and consistent, long-term application is the key to improvement.

You don’t have to get on the beers, but you should find the fun in all of it.

Week 8 Class Programming – July 9th to July 14th

Back on the Deload this week! This is the last one for this cycle as we are going into the last few weeks of percentages and then straight into re-testing!


A) Overhead Squat Or Front Squat
3 x 5 @ 65% (front squat 50%)

Superset with
Strict Toes to Bar, 10-8-6-4,
*rest only as required

B) 5 Sets:
20/18 Cal Row
5 Thrusters 70/50kg
40 DU
*2 min rest


A) Bench Press
3 x 5 @ 65%

B) Chin ups
6 x 3 @ 50X0 tempo
*Rest only as required for UB sets

C) “Bell”
3 rounds for time of:
21 deadlifts
15 pull-ups
9 front squats


Long WOD

8 Rds @ 80%
20 KBS 16/12kg
20 Ab Mat sit ups
2 Wall Walks
1x Movement of choice
300m row/ 200m Run


A) Back Squat
3×3 @ 65%

B) 3 Sets of:
10 Seated Press
10 DB Curls
10 Skull Crushers

C) 4 Sets of :
1 Length OH walking Lunge AHAP
10 Jumping Lunges (Add Load as needed)
*Rest as needed


A) Deadlift
3 x 5 @ 65%
Superset with
3 x 10/10 Seated Arnold Press

B) 3 Rounds of:
20 Single Arm DB Snatch 22/16kg
10 burpee box jumps 24/20


30 Clean and Jerks 60/40kg
1 Mile Run
10 Rope Climbs
1 Mile Run
100 Burpees

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