Rugby Boot Camp
||23 November 2003 12:00
Jonathan H Pienaar
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
This is exclusive footage of the Springbok rugby team's 'Kamp Staaldraad' described variously as a 'boot camp' and a motivational camp. The Boks spent three days and four nights here, a month before the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Corné Krige: 'I knew it was going to be tough but I didn't know just how tough it was really going to be.'
Ricardo: 'There were many times when you felt like giving up.'
The nation woke up to big headlines last Sunday morning... 'Boks Trained at Gunpoint' ... 'Naked Players Forced into Freezing Lake'. The reports set off a countrywide debate that's been raging throughout the week. But what really happened at the camp?
Immediately after the Springbok World Cup squad was announced, the 30-man team was whisked off to a remote farm near Thabazimbi, north of Pretoria. Only some of the senior players like veteran scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen had an inkling of what lay ahead.
Joost van der Westhuizen (Springbok scrumhalf): 'I knew it was going to happen; we just didn't know when. And the only players that knew was myself and Corné.'
But they couldn't have anticipated what was waiting for them when they arrived. For three days the Springboks endured physically and mentally grueling exercises, with minimal sleep, hardly any food, basic water rations and exposure to the elements.
Team manager Gideon Sam believes that because the game is about toughness and discipline, this type of camp plays a role in the team's overall training.
Gideon Sam (Springbok Manager): 'I would say that's mild if you compare it to what blacks for instance go through in terms of what their cultures do in initiation. It is a tough, tough process...'
Ruda: 'So you have no problem with this?'
Gideon: 'I have no problem. I would actually - if there are any teams that would like to build spirit amongst their members - I would recommend it.'
With a relatively young and inexperienced squad, it was important to find a way to make the team 'gel' - according to coach Rudolf Straeuli.
Rudolf Straeuli (Springbok coach): 'Most of it was team building, the rest was also based fitness-wise, where we had a consultation with our fitness coach and we were in a conditioning stage at that time when we did that camp and also to toughen them up mentally as well as physically.'
Gideon: 'There are two things in my mind that I brought across to management. I said, 'Guys, one of the things that we [have] really need to be very strong on is the whole question of discipline'. Secondly was the whole question of physically being fit and it has been proven. We were the fittest team at the World Cup.'
Joost: 'It took away the cultural differences. It took away the provincial differences. It took away the age differences. We were all on the same level and that is the only way we could have gone into that World Cup.'
Management did not turn to the traditional sources when they decided to include this training module. Instead, they used Adriaan Heijns, an ex-member of the police Task Force who has been working with South African rugby as a security consultant since 1995.
Adriaan spent ten years in the Task Force, during which time he was involved in selection and training of potential Task Force members. He brought the video footage to Carte Blanche to clear up misconceptions he says were created by inaccurate press reports. Photographs had also been leaked to the papers by other sources. Adriaan explained the rationale behind some of the methods used.
Ruda: 'Why did they have to take their clothes off?'
Adriaan Heijns (Security Consultant):'When you're naked, all your pretences sort of fall away a little bit. So when everybody is naked it sort of leveled the playing field. The basis of the camp and the aim of the camp was first of all to instill discipline in the team. The second reason was to remove all prejudice and different cultural background and racism, if there were any, and thirdly to try and stimulate the national pride and passion to be a Springbok.'
South African rugby has been heading deeper into crisis over the last few years, with record defeats, allegations of racism and a string of coaches being hired and fired. With the World Cup looming, was management desperately grasping at straws?
Rudolph: 'You've got to look at it in perspective. We started with planning for the World Cup already last year. We did also involve the Sport Science Institute. We involved a lot of professionals and consultants and the need was there for the players to do team bonding and team building. And that was only four days in the whole year of World Cup
Joost: 'In three days you learn a lot more about your mind than I have learned in the first four or five years of my career.'
Ruda: 'You keep referring to the impact this can have on your mental strength. But, if one looks at it, it looks so very physical.'
Joost: 'There's a difference between carrying tar poles this size between ten of you - which happened in the first game -than sitting in a dam where it's cold and you are not physically busy. What are you going to do when you start to shiver? Are you going to relax, keep your body cold, or are you going to talk to each other by saying, 'Don't worry, maybe just five minutes, let's go, let's stick. Let's stick together.' Whereas when you carry a tar pole like this and you have two kilometres to carry this thing and it's done. With this sense you don't know how long you are going to stay there. So it's all about the mind.'
Adriaan: 'Throughout this whole camp, every single one of them struggled at some or other point and the team pulled them through.'
In this exercise the Springboks stood naked in an ice-cold lake and had to pump rugby balls full of water. This was to unbalance the ball and test their co-ordination and communication skills.
Joost: 'And we struggled with the pumps because the one pin broke and then another broke and then they said, 'The moment the rugby balls are pumped up we can leave. We can get out of it.' '
Captain Corné Krige decided to take the lead.
Corné Krige (Springbok Captain): 'A few of the guys sort of winked to me to go over to their side and they said, 'We have got to get out of this water or we are going to freeze to death.' So I had a look around and saw that a lot of the guys were quite sore and I made a decision and said, 'That's it. We are going out.' And one thing with these camps that I have experienced before - I have been close to this, but not as tough at Saldanha - if you make a decision, you make a decision as a team, and you back - even if it's the wrong one - you go for it. And I said to the guys, 'Let's go', and we started walking out. And they were very upset and sent us back in.'
Joost: 'The instructors said, 'No, get back into the water'. And the guys said, 'But it's cold.' And they said, 'No, get back into the water, there is a reason for doing this.' And they went back into the water.'
Ruda: 'No threats with guns?'
Joost: 'Not at all. There was pointing of fingers but not guns, definitely not guns.'
Ruda: 'Was a gun ever pointed at anyone?'
Joost: 'No. There were two times that guns were fired. The one was as a starting signal for the guys to go into the water. The second one was on our last day we were allowed to have a nap and we were woken up by gunshots.'
Ruda: 'Were you woken up every fifteen minutes, as was reported?'
Joost: 'How can you be woken every 15 minutes if we didn't have sleep for three days?'
Ricardo: 'In all honesty, I never had a gun held to my head, nor was I told, 'You must do it'. I wanted to do it. And I believe the rest of the team wanted to do it because the goal of the camp was to become a unit.'
Fullback Ricardo Laubscher admits that the lake was freezing but that it wasn't very different from normal training when they have to sit in ice water for rehabilitation. For him, the benefits of this sort of drill far outweighed any discomfort.
Ricardo Loubscher (Springbok Fullback): 'One of the positive things was that we learnt to stand together. We learnt to help each other, because in times like those it was difficult, so one doesn't have a choice. We had to support each other. If I could have done something like this ten years ago, I would have because I always wanted to go through this sort of process.'
Another allegation leveled at the camp was the stripping of their dignity by making them leopard crawl naked, and humiliating them into submission.
Corné: 'Some of the guys were chafing from all the walking and being wet and then being dry and sand between your legs, and some of the guys were chafing very badly. So one or two of the big guys said, 'Can we please take our pants off?' And they said, 'Yes you are welcome, but if one takes it off ... one for all ... everybody takes it off.' So we all took our clothes off, and what happens when somebody does something wrong is that you get punished for it. It's like if you make a mistake on the field; if one person makes a mistake then it affects the whole team. So we made a mistake and we had to crawl and nobody had their pants on, so everybody decided very quickly to put their pants back on. So that is why we were crawling around naked, it wasn't said, 'Take off your kit and then crawl.' '
Ricardo: 'It was done, but it wasn't done to humiliate us or anything.'
Joost: 'I saw it as a laugh. It was fun, but sore.'
Critics have called it old method thinking, a throwback to the old South Africa, enforced discipline at the cost of individual creativity.
'Instead, there is over-emphasis on controlled aggression', says sports psychologist Andre Roux.
Andre Roux (Sports Psychologist): 'Nowadays in peak performance in elite athletes and winning teams you need the flair and creativity of each player. You need energy to flow. Now that stalls the energy, if you are under fear all the time.'
Joost: 'For a city guy to go and cook an egg in the bush, that's fun. 'What am I going to do?' It's creative. 'How am I going to build my fire?' We had a little piece of match like this... and now we have to make a fire. You are in the bush alone and you have never made a fire before now. 'Okay how am I going to build this fire? This is what I am going to do. How am I going to cook my egg? What piece of wood am I going to use to cook my chicken?' Isn't that creative?'
After a night out in the cold with just a chicken drumstick and an egg that they had to cook but were not allowed to eat, the squad was re-united - tired and hungry. Whose egg had mysteriously gone missing? Who ate their chicken
before the time? The players were put to the test.
Ruda: 'This looks so childish and unnecessary. Why?'
Adriaan: 'In making small things important and attention to detail, that is also directly linked to sport and to rugby. Because they were instructed right from the beginning how to cook these things and if they listened, the guys that listened had food the next day. The guys that didn't listen had egg on their face.'
And punishment was served. The five offenders were put through the notorious, back breaking chocolate box and beertjie exercises, while the rest of the team were made to watch.
Corné: 'They gave us a big metal ball that is tied to a short piece of railway track. And there is also a little chocolate box - which is an ammunition box that is filled with cement but it's quite heavy. But the fantastic thing about that was the other 25 guys stood and watched. And when we finished they approached one of the guys who had driven us around and said, 'Listen, we want to do it. We want to do the same'. And I never expected them to do it because it was very tough. But they said that if we had to go through it then they will go through it. But then we had to stand there and sing the national anthem. The guys were so tired. You are really more tired than you have ever been on the field. When you do get tired on the field you think,' Well, I have been here and I have been past this much worse.' '
These situations are intended to translate to real scenarios on the rugby field.
Corné: 'That is exactly what we learnt at the camp, that we spoke about and that every guy must give his everything for the team. That if he's ill-treated and he is given the yellow card, and he is in the sin bin for ten minutes and he is watching from the sidelines like he watched at the camp. He is watching how we struggle with 14 men against 15.'
But these tough-guy tactics are unnecessary in any type of sports training, according to Andre.
Andre: 'I'd say they were trying to experiment to see if such a thing can work, but it's to the extreme because it's based on fear and its based on breaking the person down. You break the person down by putting him under a lot of stress. You break him down by taking away his integrity; meaning walking around naked or doing the things they did. So what you are basically doing is you are brainwashing firstly by taking away everything that he believes is his own and then build him up your way. That is the typical military way and you do it by instilling a lot of fear. And if you can then learn to face your fears and you can live through it, of course you are going to be more mentally tough. And you are going to be more disciplined. But did it make them win? No. Is it applicable to an elite team? No. Is it applicable to any team that maybe want to go and kill other people? Yes.'
Adriaan: 'We gave them numbers and those numbers were their communication method.
So we took their identity away in a big way. A lot of critics will say that goes for military conformity. That was the idea because first you have to be gelled as a team and then you get your personal identity back then you can have all your creativity and stuff like that.'
Rudolf: 'This exercise has been done before. It was not a trial and error kind of situation and, like I said, there were no injuries and they basically came out of that camp physically fitter and tougher. And mentally much harder.'
According to Piet Heymans, CEO of the South African Rugby Players Association, other top rugby playing nations told him that in the professional arena places like 'Kamp Staaldraad' would never be entertained.
Rudolph: 'English did the same kind of training with the SAS. In the past the national team did other exercises.'
Sports psychologists argue that players need to master the mind in order to master the body. Techniques are used to replace failure thought patterns with success thought patterns.
Andre: 'Anybody that suffered together is going to feel close together. Does that really mean that it's team cohesion? You might have team members saying, 'Yes, we feel good together as a team. Yes we have achieved what we wanted. We feel team spirit.' Of course, it's because they have suffered together. You might as well take two people who suffered in a township together - they also have team spirit. But that is not the team spirit that you need for peak performance.'
No doubt the Springboks did suffer together on several occasions during the camp. One night all 30 of them were crammed into a pit covered with a tarpaulin. A recording of 'The Haka' was played intermittently during the night and they were doused with cold water to keep them awake. By many people's standards this was considered barbaric.
Corné: 'It's probably mentally the toughest part of the camp, that we were put in this hole and originally we were just put in there and it was dark and you couldn't see each other. And I tell you what - it sorted out huge problems in that hole because every guy spoke from the heart, because at that point we were really tired. Ashwin spoke from a black player's point of view about things that bothered him and he was honest and the guys agreed and said, 'This is the way we have to go and from today we are brothers and nobody can ever separate us.' It was a good exercise.'
Ricardo: 'For me, that was one of the times that I felt I had reached breaking point, where I could just pack my stuff and go. But then you look around and you see how many guys are struggling and that just made you more determined to push through.'
Corné: 'And now and then the Haka would play and the Haka sort of upset the guys quite a bit and they started singing our national anthem. And every time the Haka played we would sing so loud that we would block out the Haka. It was quite an emotionally charged time in the hole.'
Joost: 'That's why we sang the anthem in the last game against New Zealand. When they sang the Haka, when we heard the Haka we started to sing the national anthem. And that is the connection we made, and that was the pact we made.'
Corné: 'People are going to look at the camp and try to find an excuse for why we didn't do well at the World Cup. Look at our players, look at what we did on the field and don't look at a camp that happened a month before and that had more positive spin-offs for us as a team and bonded us more as a team than we could ever have imagined. And that is why this team stuck together and we will be world champions.'
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.