TikTok Women’s 6N: Scots aim to profit from sports psychology sessions

Captain Rachel Malcolm believes work on mental skills can help bring a long run of losses to an end in this year's Championship

Rachel Malcolm
Rachel Malcolm will again captain the Scotland squad in this year's TikTok Women's Six Nations. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND will next week start work with sports psychologists – possibly including mental-skills coach Aaron Walsh – as they aim to find a way to snap out of a nine-game losing streak. 

That dismal sequence comprises all five games in last year’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations, a summer friendly and all three matches at the Rugby World Cup. But six of those defeats have been by seven points or fewer, leading captain Rachel Malcolm, for one, to conclude that little changes in the squad’s approach to games could end up making a difference. Speaking at the launch in London of this year’s Championship, the 31-year-old revealed the imminent introduction of sports-psychology work, and also some tactical tweaks that will be made to the team’s game plan.

“There have been some last-minute, last-second situations where we’ve got it wrong, and a lot of that does come down to the mental side of the game,” Malcolm said. “Starting from next week it’s something we’re going to be working on a lot more, both sports psychology and mental skills stuff. Aaron Walsh, who came on board with the men’s team, will hopefully be starting to work a little bit with us as well. 


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“It’s something we are definitely crying out for as players, Scottish Rugby have listened to what we said, and they’re bringing in support in that respect. We have had psychological support before, but I think it’s probably not been specific enough.

“And we’ve never before had the amount of time in camp that we’re going to have,” she continued, referring to the fact that this is the first Six Nations in which the bulk of the squad will be full-time professionals. “Now we’ve got the time, we can really utilise that.

“Close isn’t good enough for us any more. We need to find a way to turn those results and be on the right side of them. In the last however many years, we’ve been on the wrong side of too many losing-bonus-point losses, and I think as a squad we want to push on and find a way to get on the right side of them.”

When it comes to those changes to the style of play, the coaches and players have concluded that the team had become too predictable in attack. The aim now is to play more expansively.  

“We want to look to play slightly differently, because what we’ve been doing prior to this hasn’t necessarily worked for us,” Malcolm added. “That’s obviously going to come with a few mistakes along the way, but as a squad we’re really excited about this new era and opportunity to push on and get those wins.

“At the World Cup we defended extremely well, and I’d say that across last year’s Six Nations we defended really well as well. I think Tyrone Holmes, who has come in as our defence coach over the past couple of years, has transformed our defence. 

“So we’re a hard team to score against, but I don’t think we’re scoring enough points. We’re definitely looking at adapting how we attack. We’ve been quite similar across the last couple of years, so adapting that to be a bit more of a threat to teams and stressing them a bit more – and hopefully putting more points on the board to avoid those nail-biting finishes every week.

“I think traditionally as a pack we’ve always looked to carry. We haven’t necessarily looked to spread the ball or look for space. We’ve almost just tried to provide a platform for our backs to play. 

“We can all play rugby, we can all move the ball, we can all recognise where space is and make decisions. So hopefully you’ll see a more exciting attack which moves the ball a little bit more and spreads it wider, and really tries to manipulate defences a little bit more.”   

 

Realistically, things are going to get worse before they get better – at least when it comes to that losing run, which appears certain to stretch into double figures when Scotland begin the Championship with a game away to England a week on Saturday. But while Malcolm is honest enough to accept that winning that match at Newcastle’s Kingston Park will be a tall order for her team, she also believes that the lessons learned from it could help in the games that follow, with Wales at the DAM Health Stadium being next up seven days later.

“England has been our opening game for the last two years as well, and they are arguably the best team in the world. It’s always a tough challenge, but we train day in, day out to compete against the best.

“They’ve tended to put up a significant number of points against us, so this season we want to narrow that gap down. We want to stop them as much as possible, but also we want to put points on the board. It is a tough start, but it’s a challenge that we’re excited to face.”

“Although it’s going to be tough, it’s also an opportunity, because if any team is going to expose your weaknesses it’s going to be England. So to have that first up – if there are chinks in our armour, they are going to find them, and we can learn from that and take it into the rest of the tournament.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1394 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.