The Mahurangi College senior mixed touch team, which is competing in the the touch nationals in Pukekohe this month, is looking to go one step further than last year.
The side, coached by Karl Middleton, finished second last year, losing the final to Whanganui 5-4.
“The final was our worst game,” Karl says. “We got spooked by the occasion and just didn’t play footy in the first half.”
Only two players have left the squad since then, and Karl believes they are better prepared after experiencing the final’s atmosphere.
“In terms of skill, we are possibly the best team in New Zealand, but it will come down to our mental performance whether we win or not.”
The team trains between five and six days per week leading up to the tournament, which includes fitness sessions.
“We try and create a lot of game situations to force players to make decisions, because you just have to learn decision-making yourself.
“I don’t like seeing players make basic errors, but if they make a decision because they see an opportunity and just don’t execute it properly, that’s what I call a good mistake.”
Karl has coached the squad for four years and has changed the team philosophy over that period.
“The first year we went out I made it all about getting first and as soon as we lost that chance on day one. We couldn’t play a good game after that.
“The team is now centred around enjoying the game which takes a lot of pressure off the kids.”
Karl says he hates losing with a passion but has seen the side go from 16th place at nationals to second just by changing the mental approach.
“It’s a really tight knit squad and that trust is important so that every player can focus on their own job.”
The nationals will be held at Bruce Pullman Park in Pukekohe from December 9 to 11.