Tom Dawson-Squibb, of Head Start Sport, looks ahead to Saturday's Interschools in Paarl - as Paarl Boys' High School get set to take on Paarl Gimnasium in arguably the biggest schoolboy rugby derby in South Africa.
For the third year running I travelled out to Paarl to resume my work with the blue side of Paarl in preparation for the big game this Saturday.
There is always that energetic feeling driving into the town and seeing the trees draped in the school colours and every Tom, Dick and Wessel's shop sporting the colours of the team that they will be backing come the weekend.
As a 'soutie' of the highest order it is a privilege to get the opportunity to work with these boys who will undertake the mammoth task of playing in front of 20,000 boisterous supporters for the bragging rights of Paarl for that year.
Having worked with the side in 2009 that managed to reverse the five-year losing streak which was led by Stormers prop Frans Malherbe, and then - also - last year's side that drew, I know the pressure on both sets of boys this year, to perform. In fact, it is one that your average Joe in the street would battle to handle - fact! And now thirty 17/18 year old boys need to go out and 'do their school proud' with confidence and passion under this immense pressure.
Not many games, other than internationals, have as many sideshows as this game, and the biggest hurdle for these guys to get over is dealing with all the pomp and ceremony in the week leading up to the game.
This is one of the most special times for these boys but with this great honour comes a movement away from their routines and processes that have worked for them in all the other games this year. The capping ceremonies the night before are goosebump moments for these boys but they are a far cry from the norm of a Friday build-up to any other game. The interesting thing about sport is that it is inherently uncomfortable in that it creates pressure and tension for the players and therefore routines, solid preparation and familiarity create some comfort in the uncomfortable situation. A key thing therefore for the teams is to try and maintain their routines as best they can amongst all the sideshows.
Another amazing thing to see in this game is the level of motivation that these boys have to win. It is something quite incredible. A player I have worked with previously had a quote, passed down to him from his grandfather, that he'd tell himself before big games, "I feel sorry for my body for what my mind is about to make it do."
This is so pertinent for this game where these boys fly hammer and tongs into each other for 70 minutes - no doubt leaving a few of their mothers hiding their eyes from the sight! I stand to be corrected but my feeling is that both teams are just as motivated to win and that more than just the team 'who wants it more' determines the result, but rather which team allows themselves to play unrestricted by pressure, which team is fitter and which team sticks to their plans better.
But then without doubt, a key component of readying any side for an occasion such as this, is embracing the reality of the situation and not hiding away from it.
Just this year, the Stormers side was able to beat the Bulls away from home for the first time in a few years. This was due to many factors, but one of them was to have a mental plan in place to deal with all that they knew the Bulls would bring. The passionate crowd, the physicality, the Bulls' aura - and more - were all things that needed to be accepted and dealt with rather than ignored and laughed off. So often we try to kid ourselves by playing down the occasion, or telling ourselves not to panic, or writing off our opponents as inconsequential and uncontrollable. Yes, all teams should focus on what they can do and control, but without embracing the reality of the big crowd, the pressure, the occasion and having a plan for it, you are selling yourself short in your preparation. Motivation alone will not win teams a game of this magnitude, there must be some planning and reality checking around what is about to hit these boys on Saturday.
The game promises to be a great one with two teams going all out for the glory of winning their Interschools game that will live long in their memories. One truly hopes that both sets of boys enjoy the occasion as much as they can because these are such special memories for them. One certainty is that both sides will make mistakes and there will be heroes and villains - all part of the theatre of sport.
But the side that handles the occasion, who sticks to their plans and who is fit enough to last 70 minutes at high intensity will win this one.
* Tom Dawson-Squibb and Rowan Belchers run a company called Head Start Sport which focuses on the mental side of sport. They have worked with the Stormers, WP and UCT - as well as Rondebosch Boys' High School and Paarl Boys' High School.
Visit www.headstartsport.co.za to find out more, or follow them on Twitter; @thesportingmind
(Editor's note: This derby match will be broadcast, live, on SuperSport at 3.50pm - on SuperSport 5, SS5A and SS5N.)
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