Ever wondered what it would be like to represent your country as a professional sports player? Well no need to wonder anymore. We played 21 questions with England Rugby professional George Ford and learnt quite a lot! George tells us all about using the skills he’s learnt in rugby to do better and keep improving – especially developing the mindset to succeed. He didn’t just talk about winning rugby games, but also about #winning at life…

1. How old were you when you started playing rugby?
I started when I was 5 – I basically grew up playing rugby league.

2. What was your first rugby memory?
I remember I got the ball in one of my first ever games and I must’ve run across the field five or six times before I scored. I was five, so about 2/3 years younger than the rest of the people on the pitch so they just said ‘let the young lad score’. At the time I thought ‘that’s such a good feeling’ so I suppose I’m quite grateful to them for doing that for me.

3. Who was your role model and why?
I lived next door to Paul Sculthorpe, who used to play rugby (league) for Great Britain. I was just in awe of him at the time, and I still am. It was a bit surreal having him for a neighbour. Seeing him on TV on a Friday night and then seeing him on the street on a Saturday was quite cool.

My dad also played professionally, and it was always a bit weird watching him play – but he’s been my biggest role model.

4. Can you remember your first training session with England?
It was really daunting – I came into the environment feeling very anxious. The build‐up was probably more nerve wracking than the game itself! As soon as you start playing it’s like what you’ve done every day of your rugby career. Thankfully I knew a lot of the guys already, so they helped me to settle in.

It’s weird because getting picked to play for England is one of the best pieces of news you can ever receive, but you’re nervous because you want to do well and play for your country. It’s just a fear of messing up really – as soon as you’re out there, your instincts kick in and you just start playing another game of rugby.

5. What do you eat before a big match?
As a tradition I always eat spaghetti bolognese the night before a game – bit of a common one! And then on match day I’d probably eat eggs on toast and a bit of porridge – again, nothing special.

In terms of keeping a strict diet, I’m quite small compared to others so I have to eat a bit extra to keep the weight on, probably five meals a day. So loads of protein and veg during the week, and then as it gets closer to match day, more carbs, for energy!

6. Describe your perfect weekend.
I would definitely spend it with my family and my girlfriend. I’d start by playing golf with my
brothers and dad. Then obviously a Sunday roast. Mainly I would just relax, but I might try and squeeze in
watching a game of rugby at some point!

7. What’s a typical day of a professional rugby player?
Well, for training, you’re usually up at 7:45am to have breakfast. Then the morning is a mixture of meetings, gym, training and recovery. Recovery basically consists of stretching every day, a soft tissue massage and then an ice bath. I try and do those things consistently after each training session – for about 20 minutes each.

I usually get home at around 5pm and cook dinner. I actually quite like cooking which is quite weird for a rugby player!

Then on game day, I make sure to have a good sleep and get up when it’s natural to get up.

8. Do you spend time with team mates?
Yeah we do, we play golf together ‐ just spending 3/4 hours on a golf course talking about life. The guys are also big into coffee! Not just drinking it but into barista type stuff which is quite fun. Sometimes we go to the cinema and then go and get some food. We saw Dunkirk recently. It was quite good, intense though.

9. What would you be doing if you didn’t play rugby?
I get this quite a lot and to be honest, I don’t have a specific answer. I’d still quite like to be involved in sport in some capacity – in the science side of things, so maybe a physio or a rugby coach.

10. How do you deal with nerves when representing your country?
The best thing to do is come up with a way that works for you. For me I went through a stage of getting up, making breakfast, going for a 15‐minute walk and that got rid of any nervous energy. I also used deep breathing to cope with anxiety which really helped and worked for me when I needed to calm myself down a little bit.

11. Is there anything else you do to help clear your head before a big game?
I’ve always been a fan of writing things down and clearing my head. So before any game I’ll write 2/3 things down that I need to work towards. It gives me something to hang my heart on a little bit.

12. How do you deal with losing a big match?
I don’t think anyone really likes to lose! But I do think I’ve gotten better with experience. I think of it this way ‐ if a team beat you because they’re better than you then that’s that. But if you lost because you didn’t play well enough then that’s harder to deal with. But with rugby you’ve got the opportunity to play your heart out the week after. Every week is chance to turn things around!

13. Has losing made you a better player? If so, how?
Yeah, but you don’t want to lose too many times to learn that lesson, you want to learn when you’re winning as well. But that’s sport, you’re going to lose games. Improving each time doesn’t only make you better as an individual, but also as a team.

14. What’s been your career highlight?
It is definitely making my debut for England – it was always my dream as a kid growing up. The day it happened just flew by. It’s still a bit of a blur. That moment when you’re out on the field for the first time for your country, it’s absolutely indescribable.

It was quite emotional because my family were there, supporting me. All the help and sacrifice they’ve given to allow me to have this chance is incredible. So for them to see that was a special moment.

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15. How important do you feel goal setting is?
What I try to do from game to game is to pick out the most important points for me from an attack, defence and kicking point of view. I try not to put figures on it and focus on techniques instead, e.g. If I want to tackle low ‐ I’ll write down “Make sure each wrap when I tackle is as tight as it can be.”

As for career goals, I focus on the day by day rather than looking too far ahead because, in sport especially, anything can happen. The good thing about short term goals is that they are within sight whereas if they’re too far off you can lose sight of the game you’re playing at that moment.

16. What motivates you to achieve your goals?
I want those memories of winning with team mates, because when you look back that’s what you’ll remember the most. Also, making my family proud after all they’ve done for me.

17. What one tip would you give a young person looking to succeed?
First of all ‐ enjoy it. Don’t worry about things too far into the future. Take each session at a time. Control what you can and do what you can do to the best of your ability. People make so many excuses and blame external factors but instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can control, like your attitude. No one can take that away from you.

18. What three traits do you need to become the best in your game?
1. Be mentally tough. Rugby’s a game where so many things can go wrong so you just have to be bullet‐proof.
2. Stay grounded. Even when things are going well keep a level head – if you don’t, the game can kind of catch up with you.
3. Be relentless at getting better. Never stand still and never be OK with good enough because if you’re doing that then someone behind you will overtake you. So keep being better in all aspects of the game.

19. How do you mentally prepare for games?
I try and push myself during training in the week, that way I can go into the match and know I will bring my best game, because it’s what I’m used to. I also try and analyse the opposition and come up with tactics for the game. Putting the time and effort into that means that you go in feeling as confident as you possibly can be.

20. How do you cope with pressure in big matches?
Treat every match the same. Some might be more important, but I don’t do anything different. They’re all games of rugby, and therefore all important.

21. What’s the next goal in your rugby career?
It will definitely be that short term, everyday goal of continuing to keep getting better. If we have that attitude as individuals, then that will translate into the team as well – that’s how you win games.

Well there you have it, an insight into someone that lives and breathes rugby (but also golf, spag‐bol and has strong barista skills). I think we can all learn something from this pro – thanks for answering our 21 questions with us George – stay cool!

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