Evert, who holds a PhD in Biokinetics and Sport Science from the University of Pretoria, is also a well-decorated coach, having been on the coaching staff of the Junior Springboks and Vodacom Blue Bulls squads in the 2000’s, winning titles across the world in that time.
As such, Evert was involved in the recent digital coaching forum presented by SA Rugby to other coaches in the country, while still feeding his academic needs by doing an e-learning online course through Harvard.
With the lockdown extended, www.springboks.rugby caught up with Evert to find out what he would suggest as good ways to cope with the two additional weeks in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, by pointing to something the Blitzboks did on the field in Los Angeles last month.
“On 1 March 2020 we were involved in what has been described as ‘One of the Greatest World Sevens Series Finals’,” recalls Evert.
“We had come back from a huge scoreboard deficit – which included an injury time try and a touchline conversion – to force extra time, with Branco du Preez providing the successful kick with such calmness.”
The kick is at 2:57 in the video below.
So, what does it take to make such an important kick under such pressure?
“Have a look at how calmly Branco walks back to the mark, centring himself as he knows that he only has 30 seconds after the try has been scored to take the kick,” says Evert.
“He takes his position, takes a deep breath, focusses on the goal posts, follows his foot path to where he is going to take the kick from and then slowly moves forward.
“As he generates forward momentum, his planting foot locks into the ground, his kicking leg comes through and he strikes the ball. He executes a routine he has repeated literally thousands of times.
“And after he kicks the ball, if you watch carefully, you’ll see him keeping his head down longer than normal as his leg comes through and the ball starts spiralling towards the goal posts. As soon as he knows he has done all he can, he snaps his head up, to see where the ball is flying towards.”
With his braids flapping backwards as he watches, everything is happening in slow motion for Du Preez.
“Your attention turns towards the assistant referee behind the posts,” explains Evert.
“As you see her starting to raise her flag – the reality of what has just culminated in this gesture – you know he has done it. We are into extra time and we have another chance. This is goose-bump stuff!”
According to Evert, the first thought in the players’ minds will now be to ‘focus on the process’, something Blitzbok coach Neil Powell often talks about when discussing how they view success.
“’Success’ to us is how well we have implemented our processes,” explains Evert.
“What did we plan to do? How well did we prepare to execute the plan? How well did we stick to what we wanted to implement in a high-pressured situation? And finally, were we successful in achieving that?
“At times we talk about winning a match and not being successful, and at other times we may have lost a match, but we would be ‘satisfied’ in a way because we knew we executed what we wanted to, but lost on the scoreboard to a better team at that moment.
“That is the concept of ‘effort vs results’. It will never take away the joy or pain from what has happened on the scoreboard, but it helps us keep perspective, and stay focused on our ‘long game’, which involves continual improvement and striving towards that ‘perfect’ game.”
During this lockdown period and changes in the world as we know it, what are our personal processes we can choose to focus on, and how do we determine and measure “success” during this time?
“It could be success in our families; in our relationships with our spouse or partner; or with our children,” says Evert.
“Is this not the best time to reflect on it? Maybe we should reconsider what we want to focus on in these times that could have lifelong effects?
“How are we engaging with our work colleagues or friends during this challenging time? Are we able to help them navigate this uncertain time with hope, kindness and most importantly, love? Often a heartfelt personal text message to affirm that they are in your thoughts or prayers can mean the world to someone who may really be in need that kind of encouragement as we all face a common ‘enemy’.”
Then, looking back at that kick by Du Preez, a second thought from Evert – stay calm!
“When Branco walked back for this ‘all or nothing’ kick, watch again how calm he is,” explains Evert.
“Although there is chaos all around him, he knows what he must do and trusts himself. Every single one of us has been on life’s journey and have been faced with some amazing and some crazy hurtful experiences.
“All these experiences have prepared us for times like now. Think about it: we have survived these difficult circumstances, not only to be able to ‘tell the tale’, but also to face this universal challenge head on.
“As long as we can win on the battlefield of the mind, staying positive even when it feels like it is getting too much, we can draw on our past experiences trusting things will get better.”
The third thought from Evert when looking back at Du Preez’s conversion is to always keep your head down.
“I clearly remember the crazy atmosphere in the stadium – all around us was a buzz of excitement and anticipation,” remembers Evert.
“The Fijian supporters wanted Branco to miss, the South African supporters hoped he would convert the kick, and the neutral supporters also wanted him to succeed as it would increase their experience of this tournament, knowing how much more of a thriller the match would turn out to be if it in fact went to extra time.
“The universal concept of ‘keeping your head down’ and staying focused on your target is known to us all. It’s the only way you can give yourself the best chance of hitting your target.
“In this case, the target wasn’t the rugby poles, but the ball. Under all the stress Branco was under, which includes physical fatigue, body pain, emotional pressure, scoreboard pressure and field position pressure, he kept his head down and on the target throughout the whole process. At no time did he look up as he dropped the ball perfectly in line with where his boot would make contact.
“Branco showed us what keeping your eyes on your target should look like. I encourage you to re-evaluate your life and your priorities – whether it is your spiritual relationships and growth, your relationships with loved ones, or any other aspect that is important to you. Know and focus on your processes, stay calm, and keep your head down.”