University of Leicester
2021PowellAJPHD.pdf (4.75 MB)

Mental Toughness and its Development in Rugby Union: Utilising Ecological Systems Theory

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posted on 2022-01-14, 12:23 authored by Alexander James Powell
Mental Toughness (MT) is a psychological quality associated with superior sporting performance yet remains elusive both conceptually and developmentally. The conceptualisation of MT and the effectiveness of theoretically informed development interventions are a relatively new area of research, and there are no published MT intervention studies within rugby union. Therefore, this thesis aimed to utilise a personal construct framework and ecological systems theory to explore a unique conceptualisation of MT and its development in rugby union. Study 1, explored the perceptions and experiences of MT from 12 British elite male players and coaches, (Mean age =44.9, SD = 16), using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Study 2 used a personal construct framework (Kelly, 1955) to elicit the elements and personal constructs of MT using repertory grid technique. The findings informed a conceptual, personal construct model of MT and its development in rugby union which was then framed in ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Study 3 sought to determine the applicability of a personal construct model of MT to a wider rugby population. Players and coaches (n=468) from across performance levels in the UK completed the rugby union specific MT repertory grid. Bayesian modelling showed that the conceptualisation of MT outlined, was appropriate beyond elite rugby union. Study 4 investigated the effectiveness of a season long MT intervention on the development of MT using a quasi-experimental design involving two UK RFU Premiership rugby academies (players n=89 and coaches n=6). The findings suggested the season long MT intervention was ineffective in developing players’ MT within a rugby union academy population. Overall, the personal construct model of MT in elite rugby, framed in ecological systems theory provides a stable conceptualisation for rugby practitioners to understand and implement MT across rugby performance levels. Intervention findings suggest that MT is not easily changed within a single season.



Tony D. Myers; Lorayne A. Woodfield; Stephen Mellalieu

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Social Sciences

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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