The Professionals: Rob Vickerman’s Tips for Amateur Rugby Players

Learn from your mistakes. recently caught up with Canterbury Ambassador, Rob Vickerman (former England Sevens Captain, Newcastle Falcons and Yorkshire Carnegie player), at the Canterbury Ultimate Training Experience in London. We took the opportunity to ask him his advice for amateur rugby players looking to improve their game.

rugbystore: Is it good for players to have pre-game rituals or routines?

Rob Vickerman: When you look at how things are done with a ritual or routine, it changes the mindset, you do things without having to think about it, which in itself saves energy. So if you go to a game knowing full well what your procedure is before it in terms of your preparation, what you eat, when you eat, how you prepare, how you get to the ground, how you’re then in the changing room, you familiarise yourself with performance so you then don’t have to spend time and energy thinking about change.

You need to explore what works well for you. Whilst the professional teams are absolutely on point with their routines and rituals it’s because they have honed them for many years. For the amateur players reading this it might be a case experimenting with different foods, different times of eating, different messages before a game too really understand how it is that you best perform.

RS: So players should develop a routine but is there any danger that you can be too dependent on them if you’re unable to stick to a routine?

RV: That’s a good point and straight away when people mention routine and rituals they think about things as simple as putting on a sock on first.

Superstition is what you need to be wary of and sometimes people get spooked out by it, but at the same time I am a big believer in being resilient and going with the flow. If things are different to what you’re used to then that is an out and out challenge. It’s how you then react to the challenge.

RS: What are some of the mistakes that amateur players make when they are first trying to get into professional rugby?

RV: I may sound like a wise old man here but the first problem is they don’t recognise that mistakes will happen and mistakes are welcome. You only learn about something if you fail at it first.

The biggest concern for me, across all sports, so speaking to people in mixed martial arts for example, which is an out and out brutal sport, is that athletes over train. It sounds like a crazy concept but because you have that much of a discipline to learn the same with heptathletes and decathletes you can’t necessarily do everything within a time limit.

Knowing that it might take an external factor to get you over a plateau is essential.

So think about rugby, if you’re going to focus on even four elements look no further with what we are talking about here today with strength, endurance, power and speed, each one of those is almost a day’s training in itself. So don’t try and do too much, similarly when you’re doing weights, like a lot of guys now are, don’t try and do too much. Focus on one area of strength that is already aligned with how you play and work on that.

RS: You mentioned MMA there, are there other sports or sports personalities that rugby players should be watching and learning from?

RV: Yeah and what a great message for rugby to now be in a multi-sport event like the Olympics where the Sevens is going to learn from a whole host of elements from different sports.

If you ask me, what makes a goes Sevens player I would say they need the power of a shot-putter, the speed of a sprinter, the endurance of a 400m runner and the hand eye coordination and skill-set of a volleyball player. Straight away, if you look at multisport event like the Olympics, if you can get cross-pollination with not only the players but coaches within that arena, how fantastic would that be.

RS: How do you think players should deal with nerves the night or even the hour before a big game?

RV: Again it’s the understanding that nerves happen. At no point do you play in front of 80,000 people and not become inherently nervous. The other thing, that people may not understand, is that you have got these nerves and at the same time you can’t hear people or communicate.

You only learn about something if you fail at it first.

So straight away it’s understanding that you need to be able to cope with the pressure of nerves and know that quite simply it’s a game of rugby, we aren’t talking about war or life and death. If people are getting out and out nervous to the point that they are not able to focus or concentrate, you just have to have that reflective purpose to understand you’re going out to play a game that you enjoy. Yes you want to win and be competitive but at the same time you have got to enjoy it.

RS: What are your favourite methods of recovery?

RV: I am a big fan of ice baths and I know there is a lot of evidence out there that says they are neither good or bad. It’s completely psychosomatic for me. If I believe that I will recover better from having an ice bath, then I should have an ice bath. At the same time, I know some people that won’t even dip there toe in one and that works for them.

One thing specifically is that if you’re playing XVs, you have played an 80 minute game, you’re recovery protocols need to be very extensive and thorough whereas in a Sevens remit, you’re straight back out their two hours later, it’s a different contrast.

Canterbury Ultimate Training Event

RS: If a player feels like that they have hit a wall with their improvement, what should they do to get through it?

RV: I would be very scientific with it, understand that plateaus will happen and then work out what is the next step from it. So that’s where it’s critical to understand not only yourself in terms or your self-awareness and what you’re good at but at the same time get advice. There are so many forums out there now, specifically around performance. Knowing that it might take an external factor to get you over that plateau is essential.

So it’s a case of picking on friends, colleagues and experienced people. The world is now accessible, you can easily send messages to incredible fitness coaches and players even, and many would happily give you advice which previously couldn’t have happened.

Even when I was playing, I was looking at pub med journals, to really get too grips with what the science is saying about it, knowing full well that the science and theories are not always as accurate in a sporting context. You’re not going to get worse from reading them though are you?

RS: Lastly, any advice for players being asked to play out of their preferred position?

RV: Coming back to the world of XVs from Sevens it was assumed I was quick and skilful enough to be a winger. I played my first five games on the wing having never played a minute there in my life. So if that happens understand, in terms of the team perspective, there is a bigger reason for it. You can quite easily have a skill set that is suited to another position but that may improve by playing somewhere else.

One thing I will say without getting into professionalism, younger players should all experience playing in a different position. If you understand what it takes to be a fly half or a fullback or a centre, your vision changes and your understanding of what a winger wants changes. One thing is for sure, and this is just a personal anecdote, when you stand on the wing and don’t get a ball for ten minutes, when you go back to the centre you understand what it is that they want.

Get more great tips for amateur rugby players from The Professionals:

David Wallace on playing to your strengths.

Geoff Cross on recovery.

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