- Triple Olympic medallist Louis Smith part of BMW Performance Academy
- London 2012 star explains how he will help rugby’s next generation
Louis Smith knows how to deal with pressure. After the then 19-year-old ended Great Britain’s 80 year gymnastics medal drought at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, all eyes were on him at London 2012 for a repeat performance at the peak of his career.
And the Peterborough-born star delivered, securing silver on the pommel horse and unprecedented team bronze, putting him a good position for his role with the new RFU BMW Performance Academy.
The brightest prospects in English rugby have been selected for the programme to give them the best possible chance of graduating to the senior team and Smith has been enlisted to assist on “dealing with pressure”.
The 23-year-old, whose profile is set to rocket even further with an upcoming appearance on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, thinks the mental processes and external tricks to cope with stress can be learnt and the earlier one appreciates them the better.
Photo: Getty Images
“It’s taken me quite a while to deal with pressure situations and learn how to handle expectation,” said Smith.
“When you have pressure to perform there are certain ways you can handle it and for me it took quite a while to understand that at times you can feed off the crowd or you can ignore it. And how to try and turn negative media or things people have said into a positive step forward.
“There are a lot of tricks to be learnt and if you can get that early on in your career, you can build on it and go from strength to strength, which will help you as you get older.”
While Smith’s 50-second pommel horse routine is firmly an individual event, as the established star and only previous Olympic medallist in the men's GB gymnastics team, he had to deal with the anticipation within his five-man squad for the team event.
Smith believes the methods of dealing with pressure are transferrable across all sports and says the form his mentoring takes will be down to the individual he’s working with, mirroring the overall philosophy of the bespoke, individually tailored BMW Performance Academy programmes.
“Sport in general, can relate to any other sport,” he added. “You’re out there to perform and whether it is in a team or as an individual you’ve got a job to do. It’s about dealing with the pressure and the expectation.
“Eyes were on me to perform, in the last four years since Beijing everyone has been talking about my pommel horse routine and it was about finding ways to overcome the nerves.
Photo: Getty Images
“It depends where the individual is feeling anxiety – is it nerves, does he feel himself, is he concentrating on the game, is he worrying about what other people are thinking. There are different aspects so you need to talk and get an understanding of the person.
“But the most important thing is to enjoy the game and not get caught up in what is going on around you. Obviously, the more successful you get, the more distractions there are, but you can’t let that affect your game.”
Smith was at Twickenham Stadium with England and Saracens wing Chris Ashton, a fellow mentor, and England Under 18 lock Maro Itoje, one of the initial 10 named for the BMW Performance Academy.
He describes his double medal haul in front of a home crowd as the best feeling he’s ever had and believes nothing will top it for the rest of his career. England’s rugby players will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to sample the same experience at Rugby World Cup 2015, and Smith said it cannot be fully appreciated until you’re in the moment.
Modestly suggesting only four fifths of the rampant O2 Arena crowd were backing him this summer, he added: “I don’t think they’ll realise the impact it will have, competing in something so massive on home turf is life-changing, especially if the result goes right.
“Having the home support, the media, the nation behind you can add a certain level of pressure and expectation, but it’s about turning that into a positive and using it to your advantage.
“When 80 per cent of the crowd are supporting you it’s a massive advantage.”