Psychological demands of international rugby sevens and well-being needs of elite South African players

Kruyt, Ninette ; Grobbelaar, Heinrich (2019)

CITATION: Kruyt, N. & Grobbelaar, H. 2019. Psychological demands of international rugby sevens and well-being needs of Elite South African Players. Frontiers in Psychology, 10:676, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00676.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Rugby sevens was included in the 2016 Olympic Games, with South Africa’s Blitzboks winning bronze. They also won the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 World Rugby Sevens Series. Whilst peak performance is paramount at the elite level there is a growing responsibility to address player well-being and off-the-field player needs. This study explored the psychological demands of international rugby sevens and the well-being needs of elite players. Twenty professional players (age range: 21–33 years) participated in semi-structured interviews. Qualitative content analysis yielded five categories of psychological demands: (1) tournament structure, (2) resilience, (3) cope with physicality, (4) perform when fatigued, and (5) perform under pressure. The prevailing team culture included: (1) team cohesion, (2) clear purpose, (3) work ethic, (4) team values, (5) happy environment, (6) relationships with coaching staff, and (7) faith. Various psychological skills [(1) goal-directed behavior, (2) compartmentalization, (3) deal with anxiety, (4) motivation, (5) imagery, and (6) self-confidence] and mental strategies [(1) coping, (2) “back-to-zero,” (3) creativity, and (4) cognitive triggers] utilized by the players are discussed. Their general well-being and individual needs were: (1) physical needs, (2) financial concerns/needs, (3) preparation for life after rugby career, (4) support structures, and (5) mental (ill) health. This information could be useful to develop an integrated sport psychological and well-being program aimed at improving performance and facilitating psychological well-being both during and after retirement from elite sport.

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