Mental Fatigue Impairs Tackling Technique in Amateur Rugby Union Players

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Demi Davidow Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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Mitchell Smith Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, College of Engineering, Science and Environment, University of Newcastle, Ourimbah, NSW, Australia
Active Living Research Program, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Ourimbah, NSW, Australia

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Tayla Ross Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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Gwyneth Laura James Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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Lara Paul Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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Michael Lambert Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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Ben Jones Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) Centre, Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club, Leeds, United Kingdom
England Performance Unit, Rugby Football League, Leeds, United Kingdom
Premiership Rugby, London, United Kingdom

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Sharief Hendricks Division of Physiological Sciences and Health Through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport Research Centre (HPALS), Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) Centre, Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, United Kingdom

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Purpose: To test the effects of mental fatigue (MF) on tackling technique on the dominant and nondominant shoulders in rugby union. Methods: Twenty male amateur rugby union players and a total of 953 tackles were analyzed. A randomized crossover counterbalanced design was used across a non-MF (control) and an MF condition. During each condition, each player performed 24 tackles, divided into 4 sets of 6 tackles (3 tackles on each shoulder). In the MF condition, players performed the Stroop Task between each set of tackles. A video recording of each tackle was used to evaluate each player’s technical proficiency. A score of 1 point was awarded if a specific technique was performed correctly, and 0 point was given if not. The total score, measured in arbitrary units (AU) out of 11, represents the player’s overall tackling proficiency. Results: Overall, players displayed a significantly lower technical proficiency score in the MF condition compared to control (set 2: control 7.30 [7.04–7.57] AU vs MF 6.91 [6.70–7.12] AU, P = .009, effect size (ES) = 0.30 small and set 3: control 7.34 [7.11–7.57] AU vs MF 6.88 [6.66–7.11] AU, P = .002, ES = 0.37 small). For the nondominant shoulder, players had a significantly lower technical proficiency score during the MF condition at set 2 (control 7.05 [6.68–7.41] AU vs MF 6.69 [6.42–6.96] AU, P = .047, ES = 0.29 small) and set 3 (control 7.14 [6.83–7.45] AU vs MF 6.61 [6.35–6.87] AU, P = .007, ES = 0.49 small). Conclusions: MF can diminish a player’s overall tackling proficiency, especially when tackling on the nondominant shoulder. The physiological mechanism for this finding may be impaired executive function and suboptimal functioning of neural signals and pathways, which result in less skillful coordination of movement. To further understand and explain MF-induced physiological changes in tackling, the feasibility of monitoring brain activity (such as electroencephalogram) and neuromuscular function (such as electromyogram) needs to be investigated. The findings from this study may also contribute to the development of more effective tackle training programs for injury prevention and performance.

Supplementary Materials

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