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Tuesday, 21 May 2019 10:38 pm

Players learn lesson in bouncing back

Abseiling-150x150THE first few steps seem easy enough.

Then the gravel path narrows as trees and scrub become denser, forming a tunnel around the boys.

The steps’ wooden retainers look as if they are stacked on top of each other, disappearing around corners into more trees.

Forty-five members of the national Under-20 rugby squad pause to catch their breath, not knowing if they are near the beginning, middle or end. But there is no time to stop for air – this is a race, not a nature walk.

The young rugby talents from around the country must run up the 100 “Jenny Craig steps” in the late afternoon heat.

It’s part of a week-long ordeal at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre in Turangi that includes crawling through muddy underground drains, building inner-tube rafts to race through the rapids on the Tongariro River, walking blindfold on high wires, abseiling a Mt Ruapehu rock wall and surviving a night alone in the bush.

During their time at OPC, the players face a number of physical and mental challenges.

They have been split into smaller teams, competing for points and hoping to prove they have what it takes to represent New Zealand.

The activities and challenges allow the coaches to make an assessment of each player’s character, says senior instructor Jamie Barclay, who co-ordinated the Under-20’s programme.

“The players were put in situations where the NZ Rugby Union management and coaching staff could see them perform.

“In previous years, character traits that showed through during OPC programmes also became evident when on tour with the Under-20 squad.”

Rafting-150x150It’s a high-adrenalin week. The teams exhaust themselves during an all-day orienteering challenge tackling National Park’s terrain, with full tramping packs on their backs.

After completing team building challenges and dragging themselves through an eight metre drain, the players race back to the centre to finish their last day there with dinner – or so they think.

The shattered players are told their rooms are locked, and they only have the items they packed in their bags that morning. They will be spending the night in the bush, alone except for the wild pigs and possums.

Once the shock wears off, 45 apprehensive young men walk into the bush, left on their own at 100-metre intervals and told to set up their shelters 30 paces off the track.

As well as their packs, each player is given food for the night, a pen, and a booklet containing instructions.

One of the main aims of the week is to prepare the young players for the future, not just when they are on the field, but after the game as well

During their night alone in the bush, players are asked to reflect on their week, think about their future, and write a poem based on their experience at OPC.

James-150x150Auckland rugby player James Semple (left) spends the night under his tarpaulin shelter thinking about his achievements over the week, things that as a city boy, he did not think he could do.

“I started thinking about how amazing humans can be when we just push ourselves,” he says. James expected to be tested mentally at the camp, and knew the coaches would want to see how the players performed under pressure.

Mark Anscombe, one of the Under-20 team coaches, speaks to one of the groups during their debriefing and explains how important goal setting and reflection are going to be as they progress with their rugby.

Mark tells the players they need to ask themselves what their strengths and weaknesses are, and set a clear and achievable plan for the future, learning from mistakes as they go.

“If anything we want is easy, everyone would have it. How hard are you willing to work at it?” he asks the players, young men who may one day be All Blacks.

“Are you going to chuck it in on your first obstacle or brick wall you come across? Any decent rugby player I know, or successful person, has had setbacks. But what do they all have in common? They bounce back. Quitters don’t bounce back.”

Mark says each player has overcome hurdles and learnt things about themselves during the week, and did not quit when the going got tough.

He urges the players to reflect on their setbacks and be disappointed, telling them it was okay to get “pissed off”. But they need to ask themselves why it happened and try again.

“It’s like a boxer. You keep knocking him down, he keeps getting back up. And that’s what life is all about. You’ve got to keep getting back up.”

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is a Whitireia Journalism student.
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