The mind games behind the Vodacom Bulls’ success

Everything the Vodacom Bulls hope to achieve as they chase their third trophy under Jake White in this Saturday’s Rainbow Cup final against Benetton is embodied right there in the logo on their match-day jerseys.

As this team prepares to play its first international match in over a year, team sports psychologist Dr Henning Gericke will spend the week leading up to Saturday’s final reminding them about the values embodied in that logo, and which has underpinned everything coach White and his management team have sought to bring back to the Vodacom Bulls.

“When we started this journey with the team we looked at our values and getting the Vodacom Bulls values back,” said Dr Gericke.

“We identified 14 values, and many of them we incorporated into the Vodacom Bulls logo. So the blue stands for trust and family, and getting that family bond going again. The white represents being clinical and calm. The green stem of the Barberton daisy represents growth and learning, and realising that we’re on a journey towards becoming a perfect team. The red of the daisy represents our fire and passion. And then the gold in the centre represents winning. But the players know we’re not going to win unless we drive all of these other values. Those values are what makes this team a championship team. You can’t just focus on winning without driving those values as part of the process.”

Dr Gericke has taken this further with a blue armband that he’s given every player. On it is written “Bulls BMT 3”. “The 3 represents the third trophy we are playing for after Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked and then the Currie Cup. The BMT obviously represents Big Match Temperament.”

Having worked in high performance sport for decades, including with the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks, the Proteas cricket team, the South African 2012 Olympic swimming team, and the Proteas netball team, Dr Gericke says the character of this Vodacom Bulls team impresses him.

“What makes this team special is its character. They haven’t won too many matches by big margins. They beat the Stormers with 14 men, and the Sharks with 13 men. But this team has a lot of belief, and we’ve worked hard to develop that. Belief in each other. Belief in the coach. Belief in the gameplan. And it boils down to good leadership. I think the assistant coaches also deserve credit. They add such a lot of value. What makes teams successful is all of that chemistry together. We have energizers in this team, not energy sappers. This team doesn’t have all the stars of the likes of the Stormers or the Sharks have. But why are we winning? It comes down to team culture. Culture is everything. You can have the best strategy and gameplans, but if you haven’t got the culture you’re not going to win. So we’ve eradicated egos and developed a culture that everyone feels special in this team.”

And Dr Gericke certainly hopes it all comes together as planned on Saturday.

“We have a relatively young team, so for many this is a new experience for them. This is the first time we are touring together as a team. But it stays the same. It’s still a rugby game they need to go and play. Again, belief is important. If you believe in the player, the player realises he’s got what it takes. And that takes him to the next level. That’s inspiration for me. It’s not about motivation. It’s about inspiration.

“We’ve instilled that belief in the players. And that’s a massive thing when a team believes it can’t lose.”

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