La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara joined OTB AM on Tuesday to discuss kicking penalties in big moments.
La Rochelle lost 31-30 to Castres at the weekend.
Ronan O'Gara's side missed two decisive penalty kicks at the end, so Johnny Ward and Ruairi O'Connor asked O'Gara about his mindset in those moments. O'Gara built his career as a player for Ireland and Munster as a goalkicker. He was an outstanding kicker from hand too, but his primary value on the rugby field was his ability to make pressure kicks.
Since O'Gara is now a head coach, he can offer insight into these moments and also offer empathy to his players when they fail to take advantage of them.
"There's so many subplots to [pressure situations]," O'Gara said.
"You could turn that into a positive, 'look at the opportunity I have...come on, I want this penalty. Give it to me, I'd do anything to have this shot.' There's different mindsets of how you frame that question. For a period at Munster and with Ireland, self-talk is very important as a kicker, I went through stages of where I had it all worked out in my head where I may miss if I dipped."
A smile broke across the face of O'Gara when he finished, "So I used say to myself, don't dip. What do you do when you say don't dip? You dip and you miss."
Sports psychology is an ever-growing, important aspect of top-level competition. Players across all codes discuss the importance of sports psychologists, and there are now dedicated sports psychology degrees available for those who want to work in the industry. O'Gara himself acknowledges that he worked with sports psychologists, so we can assume he still does with his La Rochelle squad.
Small changes make big differences.
"How you structure your language inside of your head is very important. Another way of saying don't dip is stay tall. If your brain is thinking stay tall, you usually have the levers where you can follow through and you can finish your kick well. You kick through the ball. I didn't know that. The minute you said don't dip, the brain will dip."
O'Gara learned to retrain his brain from experts.
"It's about working with people who are strong in that area in terms of mastering the language of sports psychology. The art of kicking is very simple, yet complicated. You have to work out what kicker you are.
"If you try and clutter the brain you'll go back to paralysis by analysis."
It seems simple, but nothing is simple in big moments. O'Gara focused on three key details. The more he did that, the more he began to relish those opportunities rather than dread the pressure.
"I remember early in my career I didn't want a close game at the end because it was going to come down to me kicking. Then 10-12 years later you're begging for this opportunity. That comes with experience and that's what experience is."
O'Gara had more experience than most.
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