England expert: Ditch your mobile phones

By Mick Cleary

England coach Eddie Jones. Photo / Getty Images.
England coach Eddie Jones. Photo / Getty Images.

England's new vision consultant, Sherylle Calder, is to crack down on players' use of mobile phones as she attempts to enhance their spatial awareness, a project that she believes will make them better players in time even for this year's Six Nations Championship.

The attempt to transform players' mobile-phone habits will be requested, rather than demanded, but there is little doubt that as Calder begins her work over the next couple of days at England's training camp in Portugal, players will have to amend their ways with their much-loved items.

If they do agree to her methods then Calder, who worked with Clive Woodward's World Cup-winning squad in 2003, is adamant that her tuition and Eye Gym exercises will help every player as she looks to bring about improvements in ­decision-making that will help Eddie Jones's side to be in prime condition for the World Cup in ­Japan in 2019.

"In the modern world, the ability of players to have good awareness is deteriorating by the nature of mobile phones," said Calder, who, at Jones's request, will initially work only with England's back-line players.

"It is definitely so. We have seen in the last five or six years, when we assess elite players in different sports, that there is a decline in skill levels.

"When you look at your phone, you are losing awareness, because you're in here [the screen] all the time. There are no eye movements happening. Everything is pretty static. We are losing the ability to communicate well and all those skills are declining. Yes, definitely, we will make recommendations about how long they should be on their phones.

"There are principles that we want them to follow. We develop skills by climbing trees, walking on walls and falling off and learning all those visual motor skills, which people aren't doing any more. Young kids spend a lot of time on mobile phones, so those instinctive natural skills are disappearing. If you don't see something, you can't make a decision.

"We can improve every player. We've got until the World Cup. Different players improve at different levels but we can make the good ones better as well. As soon as they feel the difference they know it makes a difference and you can feel it pretty quickly. They will feel it in time for the Six Nations."

Calder is contracted until the 2019 World Cup and will have intensive stints with the squad at the start of each year, mid-year and towards the end. She comes with impeccable credentials having helped win two World Cups, with England in 2003 and South Africa four years later when Jones was a consultant to Jake White's Springboks.

Born in Bloemfontein, educated at Stellenbosch, rugby is in Calder's blood, although it was at hockey that she represented her country. Her expertise has impacted on a variety of sports, from grooving the technique of Pakistan opening batsman Saeed Anwar against spin in the late Nineties to several stints in golf. She had a six-month mission to hone the game of Ernie Els.

"I said to him to give it six months and you'll win a major and it was six months to the day that I started working with him that he won the Open [in 2012]," said Calder, who has overseen improvements too in the golf games of Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace.

She has just devised a programme for Lewis Hamilton's new Finnish team-mate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas. Her work in American football with Ryan Tannehill made the Miami Dolphins quarterback appreciate all that goes into making a decision under pressure.

"There is so much happening around them and to be able to put the ball exactly where it should be going is almost impossible, but you can train that ability," she said. "One of the skills we work on is being able to see, or pick up, something early. The earlier you see the more time you have to make a decision. That's a trainable skill." It did the trick, with the Dolphins making the play-offs for the first time in eight years.

Calder uses a variety of software programmes, on-field drills to measure and enhance reaction time. Jonny Wilkinson told her that he used to rely simply on the decision that was in his head but after working with her he realised that there were two or three options to weigh up.

Each individual is different. Calder's team have assessed 80,00 elite athletes around the world across a variety of sports and have not found one individual is the same as another in their reaction to tests.

"Everyone is unique," Calder said. "It is the way you use your eyes and how you train. In 10 minutes of training on the Eye Gym, you can make about 500 decisions based on something you haven't seen before and we can train at a level way higher than you experience on the field. It is the same analogy as if a player needs strength for rugby, you aren't just going to do drills on the field to develop that strength. You are going to go into the gym and use that strength on the field."

It certainly worked for England in 2003. "I have to say it did, a lot," said Calder. "Remember Steve Thompson's line-out throw in extra time in the final - the accuracy in putting the ball exactly where it should be going - so it plays a major role. If you make every player make one decision better on the field that could be 15 or 22 decisions. We have the time to make it work."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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