While player statistics are considered an indicator of how an individual or team is travelling in the NRL, they are just the outcome. Everything that comes before the tackle, meters run, line breaks, passes and tries is what really matters. It is the physical and mental skills that lie behind these actions that ultimately allow their seamless execution.

When a player overly focuses on their game statistics they may risk hanging onto a ball that should have been passed. Calling a ball to the left that should have gone to the right, running meters instead of off-loading, or off-loading when they needed to run. Keeping statistics looking good can come at the expense of a greater playing awareness. When a player is too narrowly focused on his personal performance, his vision is reduced and playing opportunities are lost. The ability to read the game is hard to measure, we see it in how skills are executed by the most highly skilled athletes. Skills not learnt in a classroom but by immersing oneself in the real world, sensing, feeling and moving.      

The ability to scan and read the playing environment is sometimes referred to as intuition.  Intuition is not some vague non-descript ability. It is a skill honed by evolution for human survival, then handed down generation-to-generation and built upon by immersion in the sport of one’s choice. Indigenous athletes are more closely connected to their genetic roots and have these skills in abundance, but the brain trims unused synaptic pathways so these skills are at risk of being lost over time as lifestyles become more sedentary.  For the average person a change towards driverless cars for example, may contribute to a loss of peripheral awareness, their reading of time-and-space and the position of the body in it, along with real life decision making and reaction time as computers are developed to do this for us.

Immersing the brain in repeatable and familiar situations helps to generate new brain cells with the capacity to process millions of pieces of information at any given point in time. Chunking seemingly random pieces of information into useable bites, allows the elite athlete to anticipate a play with lightning fast decision making and execution.   The intuitive player is a highly intelligent player. Scanning, thinking, creating and coordinating plays requires a large brain. Becoming too focused on the statistics and the physical outcome of the game fails to recognise the importance of the unmeasurable.  We see its outcome in how well a play is executed and we marvel at its creativity, but game statistics do not measure its source, the players brain. It is the unmeasurable that makes the NRL an exciting game.

Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”. She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions and NRL teams.www.wiredtoplay.com