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How the French XV has been refining its mental preparation for the World Cup since 2019

In terms of mental preparation, moving up “arrow of time” of the XV of France – an allegory dear to coach Fabien Galthié – sometimes exhumes cumbersome memories. And not necessarily very far away. “We still have quite a few experienced players in this team, so I don’t know if a psychological trainer would be the solution.swept aside Jacques Brunel, Galthié’s predecessor, the day after yet another defeat, in February 2019. It’s more for individual cases. For the collective, I don’t think this is the solution. »

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Four years later, the change is obvious. Until the 2019 World Cup, the French XV was the only one of the major rugby nations not to include a mental preparation specialist in its staff. It is now one of the strengths of this team, which is preparing to face the South Africans, reigning world champions, Sunday October 15 (9 p.m., on TF1), at the Stade de France, for a place in World Cup semi-finals.

A man is at the origin of this acculturation of the players and the management of the French team to the psychology of sport and its components: Mickaël Campo, responsible for mental preparation at the French Rugby Federation. This former coach and mental trainer for Lyon Olympic university rugby, holder of a doctorate in psychology, has nothing of a “secret skill”, even less of a guru with “cooking recipes”, clichés which still circulate around the world. about mental trainers – even when they are duly trained. “We don’t want a mentor or a guru”insisted Fabien Galthié when he took office at the end of 2019.

“Be in control, stay confident”

“What we bring is supported by scientific knowledge on the subject”, exhibits Mickaël Campo at Worldbreaking down shortcuts in a discipline that “suffers from ultracrepidarianism” – the art of talking about what we don’t know. Like these moments in matches, after the tries (scored or conceded) where the (TV) spectator sees the Blues regroup in a small circle, and breathe. “I’ve seen comments like: ‘They do cardiac coherence.’ But not at all. Or that we were doing this to get to a “particular area”, it’s absurd…”

It is actually about “bubbles of control, namely control of ourselves, of ourselves and of the message that we can send to the adversary”, explains the mental trainer. Before the French, the Australians and South Africans, in particular, were already using these “huddles” (groupings). But there is no “magic potion”, as some were quick to put it, that would explain why the Blues no longer suffer breakdowns under pressure – at least in view of what they have shown so far in the World Cup. “Associating these “bubbles” with results is a misunderstanding of what the mental dimension is, that is to say, continuous work”insists the researcher, seconded from the faculty of sports sciences at the University of Burgundy.

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