Mental Toughness Training for Sinenjongo Rugby Team

The Warrior Training Centre (WTC) conducted Mental Toughness training for the Sinenjongo High Rugby team. Rugby is a sport well known for high-impact collisions, in which players have to exert extreme force in pursuit of the ball, whether directly or by colliding into the opposing player. Injuries are frequent, with the probability of a player being injured in a season as high as 90% in some studies. It is only fitting that rugby players train hard to build strong and conditioned bodies. Equally, the mind needs to be strong.

Sun Tzu summed this up when he stated “The Victorious warrior wins with his mind before going into battle”
Roman Legionnaires would routinely carry c. 13kg of weapons, armour, and equipment over long marches of almost 60 km per day and into battle. King Shaka would reportedly make his Zulu impi warriors run 50km each day – with little or no water – barefoot in the scorching sun as preparation for battle.
The modern-day paratrooper could carry up to 80 kg of external load, depending on the mission, marching hundreds of km.

However, you carry a gym bag, or a shopping bag to your car…
Even though the modern world may not require us to carry 13kg or 80 kg of external weight everywhere we go, this does not mean we can’t build our mindset and our corresponding bodies to get back to our roots as warriors. The WTC’s “Mental Toughness of a Warrior” training does just that.

The training was conducted over two parts. The first part consisted of theory, where an overview of South Africa’s warrior heritage was provided and the neuroscience behind mental toughness was explained. The second part consisted of the practical phase, where the rugby team endured Navy SEAL type training. On hand to provide the training was WTC’s Claudio Chiste, himself a former combat officer in the Navy, and special guest instructor, Commander Michael Vrey from the South African Navy. The training was conducted on Milnerton beach, focusing on getting the team to being “comfortable being uncomfortable” and teamwork. Evolutions varied from sandbag exercise to cold water resistance training.

Training on beach sand builds your strength, stabilizing muscles and coordination. Compared to running on the pavement, running on the beach is not only much harder (building stamina), it is also more effective. Your muscles have to work much harder than usual. This helps your body develop a natural running form, whilst working your core.
Military style training with elite military units for rugby teams is nothing new. Under Sir Clive Woodward, England rugby team became world champions in 2003. In 1999, in his build-up training to the World Cup, Woodward had taken the national team down to the Marine base in Lympstone, giving them a first-hand look at the kind of commitment required to be a Marine. This was to lay the foundation, with a similar sense of elite culture becoming increasingly prevalent within the England squad over the next four years. This was evidenced by players being ultimately chosen on the basis of whether, like the Marines, their colleagues would be prepared to ‘go into battle’ with them.

Woodword went on to say training with the Marines was key to his side winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup, recalling the words of a senior Marine: “Ok, if you want to hear it, there are men in your squad who we wouldn’t go into battle with. It’s not about their skills, it’s about their attitude and effect on the team.

This sentiment was echoed by Brian Ashton, who in the build up to taking England to the 2007 World Cup Rugby final, had taken his squad to train with the eilte military unit, the Special Boat Service (SBS), stating, “The modern military and top level sporting environments have much in common, although it is obviously more important that they get things right more often!”

Indeed, in high-pressure combat situations just one negative trait of a player could sap the energy from the whole group, destroying a whole team. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The practical phase of the training with the Sinenjongo rugby team specifically focused on teamwork and communication during high pressure situations.

Navy-style beach training to reinforce teamwork

The programme ended on a high, with a fitting ceremony where certificates were presented before more than 1,000 pupils of Sinenjongo High, overseen by the the principal, Mrs Khuselwa Malinga-Nopote, and Sports Teacher, Luvuyo Zulu. After receiving their certificates, the Sinenjongo rugby team performed the famous blood curdling Zulu war cry once performed by the Springboks, “Jimilayo”, to the delight of the roaring crowd.

Sinenjongo Rugby Team Proudly Display Their Certificates.
Back row (from left to right): Enzo Gxokhwe, Gracious Banda, Qhama Qothoyi, Gugulethu Jantjies, Mellok Chirwa, Oyitando, Zubenathi Ncwadi, Odwa Thandiwena, Zwelibanzi, Kudzai Mamvura, Siphamandla Feni, Samkelo Sohma, Chieftan Sabawe (coach). Front row (from left to right) Claudio Chiste, Mr Diego Chiste, Lukho Mndayi, Mr Luvoyo Zulu, Asanele Msomi, Athenkosi Tshomo For further press articles on this, see:
Pupils gathering moments before the award ceremony