At 26 David has achieved a lot in the game. Most notably in 2014 he played for the Irish Wolfhounds. In that same year he was brought up to the Ireland Six Nations training squad.
David had a frustrating last season with injury and is sharing with us some of his top tips to keep in the right mental frame during these periods of adversity.
Mental Framing is how we view a situation internally. The life of a sportsperson is full of ups and downs and if they can frame situations in the right way it helps them get better. We can also reframe when we are looking at a situation negatively and turn it to our advantage.
Tip 1: Concentrate on the positives, reduce the negatives
Let’s go back to a tough stage of David’s rugby career.
“I was told I wouldn’t be making the Leinster academy despite getting a bit of game time in the Under 20 World Cup. Leinster explained they hadn’t seen enough of me to keep me on. This was a big blow as I was facing a year away from the provincial game and it made becoming a professional look less likely”.
As you can imagine this is a scary prospect for someone who has invested so much in an attempt to make the highest level.
So what did he do?
“I concentrated on the fact Leinster never once said I didn’t make it because I wasn’t good enough. They mentioned my injuries and that they hadn’t seen me play enough to justify giving me a place. At the time it was hard to accept but I could still see their point. I took the positive that my talent was never in question, I now needed an injury free season and some positive performances for UCD. If I delivered, my manager John McClean said he’d make a call to get a province to come take a look.”
This is exemplary mental framing in a difficult situation. Given the toughest news of his rugby career to date, David took the positive that his talent was not in doubt. He had a clear mission to ensure more game time the following season. This tough mind-set had been developed from an early stage in his sporting career.
Tip 2: The underdog label gives you added incentive
David had dealt with the underdog status from his Templeogue College days. You can use this as an excuse to hide or added incentive to stand up and be counted.
“I learnt a lot from playing with Templeogue College. We lost quite a lot. This drove me to bigger and better performances as I was relied on. I still got noticed despite being from a lesser known school. When going to Leinster trials I felt that if players from larger schools didn’t respect me I’d soon earn their respect”.
This desire to earn respect for himself and his school helped to get his adrenaline at the right level for these make or break trials.
By embracing the underdog status David not only put in great performances for his school but used it as added motivation at trials.
Tip 3: Treat team mates as you would like to be treated
During his Templeogue College and Templeogue Synge Street GFC days he was always very respectful and encouraging to team mates. These traits have carried through to his professional career.
“I always reacted better to someone saying keep the head up after I made a mistake so I always try to emulate this behaviour when my team mates do the same”.
David refers to good traits shown by his teammates that he looks to replicate,
“John Muldoon is a very good leader. He likes to ensure players are kept modest. Another one we all learned off was Dan Parks, he played with a smile on his face. This is something I’ve tried to do more as my career has developed”.
It is not all sunshine and rainbows however as Connacht coach, Pat Lam runs a tight ship. Encouragement is important but holding each other accountable is equally as important.
Pat Lam encourages players to highlight where they feel another team mate could have done better. If such feedback was taken to heart then you’re in trouble. David says the “people who don’t take it well don’t improve”.
Tip 4: Injuries don’t mean you can’t contribute to squad performance
His commitment to team mates and overall improvement doesn’t end during periods of injury. While out of action last season he still contributed to the squad effort and his own development.
“At the start of recovery you are naturally down in the dumps. Then you come to terms with it and put all your energy into your rehab and the elements of your game you can improve. I am part of a ‘return to play’ training squad here in Connacht for injured players. We come together for our sessions and still have a bit of a laugh. We also contribute to the overall squad by doing a bit of video analysis. We present to the group and give one or two words of wisdom to specific players that are currently playing the matches.”
As well as this David stayed in with the playing group by meeting fellow players for informal coffees. Similar to the business world you can’t forget your internal company network as they will be the ones you rely on most.
Tip 5: Resilience is key in achieving your goals but don’t make professional sport the only goal!
Lastly, David explains the nature of contact sport means you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.
“Don’t give up on everything attempting to become a professional rugby player. There’s huge competition and it’s a contact sport so nothing is guaranteed when it comes to staying injury free. If becoming professional is your goal then there are the usual elements of working hard and resilience. If you are not always starting or playing for the A team remember that there are late bloomers in school’s rugby. If you show resilience and stick with Rugby through school you could eventually get your break. Enjoying the process and not overemphasizing winning are also important. Playing for Templeogue College I suffered plenty of defeats from larger schools but always tried to put in big performances regardless”.
David knows that life as a professional player is finite and has completed Business courses coordinated by IRUPA while with Connacht. He acknowledges the importance of life after rugby and has taken the advice of ex professionals to get prepared for it. David has just returned to full training. While injured he committed to working hard on his recovery and bulking up in the gym. He is enjoying being back in action and has put in the hard yards to get there.