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Dr. Bob Rotella and Paul O'Connell: In Conversation

Mar 13, 2018


Gary Keegan facilitated this meeting of minds as renowned performance psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella conversed with Irish international rugby star Paul O'Connell at Pendulum Summit 2018. Visit Pendulum Talks to hear the conversation in its entirety.


Dr. Bob Rotella

My skill-set as a coach was always enabling players to believe in themselves.

I had to transmit to them that TV builds a false, impossibly ideal image of performance. People need to know that top performers build their own image of what their performance can be.

The easiest way to be confident is win early, win on a regular basis and win against people your age and five years older than you - and keep doing this for the rest of your life. 99% of people don’t have this experience.

Everything comes down to whether you can trust yourself in the most important moments of your life. A lot of people can do this in the lower tiers of sport. They look up and down the field and say to themselves: “I’m better than these people.” It’s a different story achieving this at the highest plane.

On a PGA driving range, for example, you can’t tell who the best player is. Everyone looks pretty good, but when it comes to crunch time, it all depends on who believes in themself.

I remember speaking to John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach, who said that there’s no such thing as winning and losing - only running out of time. He believed that if his team had five more minutes, they would always come out on top.

It’s the attitude to have.


Paul O'Connell

As a kid, I was a big swimmer, and my Dad used to go along and officiate all of the galas. I played golf, but to play at the evenings you had to play with a senior member - so Dad joined. I trained hard as a swimmer and I was obsessed with golf, but the team element of rugby appealed to me. I loved being part of a team, and even as a youth believed that I had strong leadership qualities.

Dad was invested in every sport we did, but he was never pushy.

I remember having an argument with him one morning because I didn’t want to go to swimming practice. He said: “You’ve committed to go, so you must.” But then, once I wanted to quit, he had no issue with it. But If I committed to something, I had to commit fully.

I understand it more even with my boy now.

He’s not that pushed about rugby, but I love it when he becomes passionate about something. At the moment, he’s obsessed with Formula One. He watches it a lot and knows all about every player. All my Dad wanted was for me to passionate about something, and I feel the same about my boy now.

From a performance standpoint, it’s often happened that I’ve picked up information and not been ready for it. I read Phil Jackson, the Chicago Bulls coach, ten years ago and thought it was crap. Then I read it three years ago and thought it was ingenious. The difference was that I was ready for it, I understood what he was saying.

I had a problem to solve - I was getting injured with increased frequency and I couldn’t train like I used to. I had to find a way of getting more bang for my buck.


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