Study reveals fear was the key to Scotland's rugby success

Forget confidence, forget a positive mindset, forget even playing during the summer, research has revealed that fear could be the reason for sporting success.

Scotland's Nathan Hines and head coach Andy Robinson celebrate after their 21-17 victory over South Africa at Murrayfield. Picture: GRAHAM STUART/AFP/Getty Images

Academics came to the discovery after being allowed unfettered the Scotland’s national rugby team during the autumn internationals of 2010 and the Six Nations tournament in 2011. During that time the Scots recorded a famous victory, defeating world champions South Africa 21-17 in 2010.

The answer lay in the players’ hormones.

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In layman’s terms, whenever players displayed heightened levels of cortisol, referred to as the stress hormone, in training ahead of a weekend match they won. But when they dropped they lost.

The researchers from Imperial College London and Swansea University took saliva samples from Scotland’s players during training, testing them for cortisol and testosterone. They summarised that adding to a player’s tension prior to matches can have differing results than would be expected.

The study, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, explains that cortisol, coupled with adrenaline, is released by the body when a person is put in a difficult situation, helping focus energy, muscles and the brain, creating mental toughness.

The research is tempered with the fact that it is not possible to predict the outcome of games solely on the stress hormone, but it can provide an accurate indicator of how well a team is prepared for the upcoming game.

It says: “Cortisol is connected to other psychological features such as appraisal, anxiety, mood, coping and dominance, that are relevant to resilience and vulnerability to stress.

“The observed midweek rise in cortisol before winning could indicate a stronger capacity to prepare for, and cope with, other sporting stressors within a short time frame.”