Monash University CC News
Better Cricket: Improve Your Mental Game
By Claire Rocastle
More than any other sport, cricket is a mental game. This will come as no surprise to any cricketer, who knows that out on the pitch it is a battle of wills – that a cricket match is fought not so much on those 22 yards of grass, but in the space between the ears. All players practice their physical skills; fewer pay equal attention to the mental skills required to reach their full potential. Any cricketer wanting to achieve the most he can in the game and improve his personal and team stats, must become that fully rounded player that is both physically and mentally up to the task.
How does the mind affect the cricketer?
If you are a batsmen who regularly scores thirty or forty runs in an innings, then you are good enough to score a century. What’s holding you back? Why do so many batsmen reach their century but are out within the next couple of overs? If you are a bowler, why do you suddenly start throwing balls all over the place after you’ve been hit to the boundary a couple of times, when your line and length are usually so consistent? If you’re a good fielder, why did you drop that sitter? Why did your team, chasing 250 to win, get to 200 for 4 and then lose the match? Why do you let that sledging get to you? These are problems that won’t be corrected in the nets; your technique is fine, but how is your head?
Even the best international players can lose their confidence. Former West Indies Captain Brian Lara made his test debut in 1990; in 1995 he suffered a setback with a drop in form, from which he didn’t recover until four years later. He said: ‘It was the mindset. It had nothing to do with my technique. There was pressure all around… I was not accustomed to that… for me, it was trial and error really. I learnt from it and you realize that you have to take things in your stride… so I thought I would step back a bit and my mental side became a lot stronger in the latter part of my career.’
Lara learnt to enjoy the game for its pressure rather than let the pressure grind him down. He said: ‘I analyze the game and one of the traits I have is that I never concentrate on milestones, it was never getting the 50 or the 100… most of the time I was under pressure – it was either 25 for two or 25 for three, or something like that. I galvanized my efforts in terms of ensuring that I got the team out of the situation. I enjoyed walking out to bat knowing pretty well that the opposition’s tail is up and I have to deliver. The best came out of me when [my] back was in a corner.’
When the mind and body are in tune, your performance will be at its best. The stress of competition is essential to maintaining optimum arousal, which will see you through a match and drive you to perform. Too much stress will impact negatively on performance; too little will leave you too relaxed and out of focus. Mental training as part of your fitness regime will provide the best foundation for you to perform at your best. It’s all about managing stress, learning to relax and finding the aids that help you to achieve that and control it; and before a match, using visualization exercises to prepare and get into the right frame of mind for the contest. Relaxation routines can also be used as part of your wind-down after an exercise session, and you can use music and aromatherapy oils to create the desired relaxing atmosphere. According to the Licensed Prescriptions website, these oils can be used ‘to benefit the health and well-being of the whole person’ and are ‘an effective tool for relaxation and stress relief.’ One object of any relaxation routine is to counteract negatives thoughts – and cricketers have many of these, which hamper their performance when on the field.
Anxious thoughts only make you nervous. Positive thoughts increase your confidence. Instead of just thinking negatively - I’m going to be out for a duck, we must not lose, I must take more wickets, etc. – take the pressure off with some less insistent thoughts such as: it would be nice to do well, but it’s not compulsory; or losing is a pain, but it won’t kill me; or being a better cricketer won’t make me a better man. Avoid labeling yourself a loser or somebody who is likely to let the side down. These thoughts will destroy your self-confidence and increase pressure. Remember that you are part of a team. You support each other and win or lose together. Nobody will be to blame for the loss or more worthy of praise for the win. Carry these thoughts into high pressure situations on the field and imagine yourself smiling, feel yourself relax, breathe out and let your whole body relax. Then focus on what you are doing. When you begin to feel stressed, remember those positive thoughts. Give yourself an advantage. Face down that batsman or bowler, and instead of crumbling, put him off his stride; be ready for that catch or ready to run, and be ready to win.
Set yourself goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you get there? A cricketer who doesn’t set himself goals is batting in the dark: you’re probably going to miss the ball. By setting yourself goals, you gain the benefit of being motivated. With something to aim for, you begin to see the light. This will improve your concentration. When your goals involve improving your own performance, a difficult match is an opportunity to test yourself, to focus on the task ahead and hone your skills. This kind of positive thinking will stand you in good stead; then, as you move towards achieving your goals, you will grow in confidence. Every time you score a run or take a wicket, you come closer to your ultimate goal and become a more assured player as a consequence.
Goals can focus on results or on actions: I will increase my batting average, or I will spend more time in the nets. Goals can also be short or long term: to score 50 runs in my next innings, or to play first class cricket within the next 5 years. However, goals must be realistic. If not, you will put unreasonable pressure on yourself, which could hamper your performance. To be effective, your goals will be achievable but challenging. You will set yourself a realistic timetable, and you will be prepared to be flexible. If you reach your goals earlier than you expected, don’t just pat yourself on the back and take it easy. Set new goals. Conversely, if it is clear that you are not going to achieve your goals, revise them, reduce your expectations or give yourself more time.
Remember that every player has his limits. Celebrate achieving each of your goals, but do not despair if you come up against your own personal brick wall. If you can go no further, celebrate what you have achieved and do not mourn the loss of what was never to be. You’ll be a better player for it, whatever your level.