Dafydd Howells has impressed for Wales U18 and the Academy and is now playing Premiership rugby for Neath
Teenage wing Dafydd Howells is hoping 2013 will be a year to remember after making his Principality Premiership debut for Neath over the Christmas period.
I'd love to go on the Wales Under 18 tour to South Africa as I did last year or even push for a place at the Junior World Championship
The 18-year-old WRU National Academy member is turning heads after impressing for the Welsh All Blacks. He kicked an early penalty in Neath's win over Aberavon on Boxing Day, set up one of his side's tries and seemed altogether unfazed by the step-up to the semi-professional game, despite his young age.
Howells looks set for a bright future on the field but a number of initiatives in place within the National Academy are helping to ensure both he and other members excel off it too.
With this in mind, members of the Academy have undertaken sports psychology and life coaching workshops as part of their developmental programme over the course of the season so far.
"The lessons give you an insight into what the professionals go through," said Howells who has also impressed for the Ospreys' Academy.
"They're in the media spotlight every day and the lessons we've had teach you how to deal with that pressure. I've really enjoyed it so far."
The workshops aim to enhance the personal development of the Academy members as they pursue a rugby career alongside their education.
"It's helped me to balance my rugby and work life as I'm doing my rugby alongside college," added Howells.
"I'm looking at going to university and have applied recently so hopefully with that and my rugby, I'm looking to push on.
"I'd love to go on the Wales Under 18 tour to South Africa as I did last year or even push for a place at the Junior World Championship. Those are my aims for the New Year."
Dr Glenda Jones and Dr Lynne Evans have both worked with the National Academy players this season and have already seen an improvement in how they react to pressure both on and off the pitch.
"What we try and do is identify what qualities a player has," said Dr Jones.
"Some of them are academically orientated so therefore it's crucial we help them balance their sporting and academic lives.
"What we need to make sure is that we develop each player to their own specific needs because you never, ever know what they might do ultimately."
And the work of the WRU National Academy and player pathway is already baring fruit with Academy players such as Rhys Patchell and Harry Robinson impressing in the professional game.
"When we see these performers on the pitch we think about making them bigger, faster and stronger but as we all know, they live the majority of their lives off the pitch," added WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts.
"The way they prepare in normal life is vital to give them the best possible chance of performing at their optimum level.
"Hopefully it will pay dividends in the short term during the Six Nations and the Junior World Cup."
Dr Evans has worked with the squad on a sports psychology basis and commented: "I've been brought in to work with the players' performance potential to try and increase their consistency.
"For instance, I've done a workshop with them on performing under pressure. This looked at their ability to deal with the competitive demands they face, the setbacks they might have and to try to help them perform consistently in whatever performance situation they find themselves in.
"All players have lapses in concentration and it's not about making a mistake in a game, it's about how you deal with that mistake and how you move on."
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