Cricket Psychology

The sport of cricket is particularly demanding from a psychological point of view – which makes for some mentally very tough cricketers

Jonty Rhodes - Cricket Psychology
This image courtesy of the Mumbai Indian IPL franchise

I think it’s reasonable to say that there is no sport quite like cricket. Certainly from a psychological point of view. Of course all sports are mentally challenging. Many require only certain kinds of mental skills for performance consistency.

Cricket, on the other hand, requires the entire array of mental techniques. We, as sport psychologists and performance psychologists, typically use the whole toolkit during our consulting with cricketers and cricket coaches.

Cricket Psychology Defined

Let’s breakdown the psychology of cricket a little. It is both a team sport and an individual sport. Due to this cricketers need psychological skills that would apply both to team and individuals athletes. Imagine rugby league and golf had a baby! For example, cricket batters requires very specialised forms of communication. The kind normally only applicable to those who play “doubles” in sports. The communication between two batsmen whilst out in the middle is very similar to a doubles pair in tennis. Is this type of communication rehearsed in training? Not a lot in my experience, even at international level.

Communication is a psychological skill even if the communicating is about something very tactical. That is why we have dedicated an entire module of our online, self-guided Mental Toughness Training program for cricket (“Metuf for Cricket”) to team unity and communication skills.

Cricketers execute their skills as individuals but do so as part of a team. Therefore concepts such as team unity and the culture of the dressing room are all pivotal. Without these success will be hard to find.

Team Dynamics Are Key

Kevin Pietersen was statistically the best batsmen to play for England between 2005 in 2014. Yet despite this he has not played for England since being dropped in 2014. It was a controversial decision at the time. However the fact that England’s performances across all three formats since then have improved suggests than team unity might be more important than previously thought.

A Self-Guided Mental Training Program for Cricketers and Cricket Coaches looking to get the Mental Edge

Cricket Psychology – Focus is Essential

Even the shortest forms of cricket last longer than many other sporting contests. Therefore cricketing mental toughness requires extraordinary abilities to focus. To switch on and off (or to switch up and down). Cricketers need to learn patience and focus when it really matters.

I had some great cricket coaches during my school days at Oundle School. But I can’t recall any of them teaching me how to switch on and off effectively for either my keeping nor my batting. Oh, if I could only send a message to my 15-year-old self about Pre Ball Routines.

Recent Examples of Cricketing Mental Toughness

In 2019 there were some amazing examples of cricket psychology at play. Some remarkable displays of sporting mental toughness that have been seen on the cricket pitch for quite some time.

The World Cup Final Over

In case readers do no follow cricket then let Wikipedia summarise what happened at the end of the Cricket Wolrd Cup that took place in England early this year. The final took place between New Zealand and England (hosts) on 14th July 2019 at Lords (the home of cricket):

The two teams were tied on 241 runs at the end of the match, resulting in a Super Over being played to break the tie. On the final ball of New Zealand’s Super Over, after equalling the 15 runs England managed in their over, Martin Guptill attempted to score the winning run but was run out by wicket-keeper Jos Buttler, meaning the Super Over was also tied. England won on the boundary countback rule, having scored 26 boundaries to New Zealand’s 17, thus becoming Cricket World Cup winners for the first time.

What was remarkable from a cricket psychology point of view was just how well all of the players and the umpires handled the extreme pressure of the situation. Huge credit needs to go into those who were assisting with the mental side of preparation of both the Kiwi and Pommy cricket teams.

The Ben Stokes Miracle

Again, in case you were not following the Ashes let me summarise. Ben Stokes scored 135 not out on the final day of the third test to deny Australia the win. From a cricket psychology point of view, the most commendable aspect of Stokes’ innings was just how ‘in the moment’ he was through the whole day. The past and the future of mostly distractions in high-pressure situations and Ben Stokes was the embodiment of relaxed and present-focused.

Steve Smith Stats’

In 2018 Steve Smith was banned for 12 months for the role he played in the ball-tampering incident that shook the world of cricket. Although as performance psychologists we are mindful never to judge everything on the results the fact that Smith scores 333 more runs than any other player in the series (both side) is truly incredible. Obviously we’re biased but it would be hard not to suggest the reason for Smith’s dominance with the bat is due to his amazing cricketing mental toughness.

But don’t take my word for it – have a read of what the current Australian coach wrote about Mental Toughness back in 2010:

View the original article here on the Cricket Australia website

Cricket Psychology Is Part Of Our DNA

As some of you will be aware at Condor Performance we prefer to use psychologists with an excellent knowledge of most sports. This has been one of our core values since 2005. The result is a team of psychologists who between all of us know a lot about most major sports. However there are a few sports which for some reason we are particularly familiar with.

In other words, if you were to score our collective knowledge across all major sports then some will rank much better than others. Cricket currently ranks slightly above all other sports. This is helped by a few lucky coincidences. For example, James Kneller is actually a former elite bowler. Gareth (me), was a child growing up in South Africa when greats like Rhodes, Donald and Cronjé were allowed back from international bans. And of course, our whole team comes from Australia or New Zealand. Two countries that have a long love affair with the sport of cricket.

If you are a cricketer, cricket coach or cricket administrator of any level and would like help with your consistency and performance please get in touch. We would be delighted to assist you in your journey to the next level.

Enjoyment and Sport

Chris Pomfret explores the common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success.

The Serious Business of Keeping Sport Fun At The Highest Level

Enjoyment and fun want to be part of all sports and at all levels.

A common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success. In other words, the higher up the ranks an athlete climbs, the more ‘serious’ things need to become in order to reach the pinnacle in their chosen sport. Or to put it another way, the pure joy a child experiences get lost as their passion becomes just a job. And this does happen.

Elite athletes are often instructed to “just have some fun”. Or “relax and enjoy yourself” during times of hardship or pressure or form slumps. You can imagine how confusing this must be for many athletes. One minute they are meant to be ‘all business’ and the next it’s ‘party time’. The implication here is that it is easy to simply tap into the pleasure pot. Like turning on a switch. But how many top-level athletes actually practice the ‘fun factor’? Is learning how to approach ‘game day’ a little less seriously part of the overall processs?

Some Applied Exercises You Can Do Now

Try to describe why you do what you do. What drew you in to it in the first place? What is keeping you there? Why do you want to continue? Why is it important for you to perform well?

Enjoyment involves some form of fun. Typically, tasks that simply feel good and put a smile on your face. Enjoyment is also driven by some deeper concepts. For example, achievement, pride, satisfaction, growth and progress.

Usain Bolt was a great example of someone who enjoyed what he did. He worked incredibly hard so that when a competition came around he could just chill. As can be seen by the below video UB had a very relaxed competition mindset. Enjoyment doesn’t mean we are always smiling and laughing. But we need to stay in touch with the things we love about our sport or art or music or business or other performance area.

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Quantification Is Essential

As with any concept in sport, quantification is essential. When we quantify something we put structures, values and measurements to it. If you can describe something you can start to understand it. This then means you can start to improve it. Enjoyment is typically a vague concept so we have to work harder to define it.

You might use the term ‘fun’ in conversation with your coach without actually talking about the same thing. Fun to one person could be fitness-related. While for someone else it’s beating people. Yet for another there might be a certain social connection needs to be really fun.

Regardless of your age or skill level, one relatively simple means of quantifying your experiences is to break things down into the following domains.

  • Mind, which includes thoughts (the words and pictures in my head), attitudes (the general ways I am looking at things), and beliefs (how I view myself, others, the future, and the world).
  • Feelings (your emotional energy and how intense it is).
  • Body (the messages you are receiving physically from head to toe).
  • Five senses (what your attention is drawn towards in the areas of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste).
  • Actions (what you are doing, what you’ve stopped doing, things you are speeding up or slowing down, doing more of or less of etc.).

Practical Suggestions

Because enjoyment is a personal experience there are no universal rules to reignite your passion for the game. In a practical sense, however, you might benefit from any of the following.

  • Reward yourself with fun non-sporting activities before and after training/practice.
  • Seperate performance into preparation and competition. Now take all your seriousness and push it into the preparation side. Blood, sweat and tears want to be more related to practice than game day. As the great Jonty Rhodes once said “I got more bruises, grass burns and cuts in practice than in match play”.
  • Create small windows of pleasure and light-heartedness during practices. This might be arriving early to mess around with teammates. Or getting pumped up during certain segments of training such as racing people in fitness drills.
  • Indulge yourself in relaxing or fun or special non-sporting activities on the morning of competitions. It’s too late to improve anything. You are better of just chilling and trusting the work you have done.
  • Emphasise interactions and activities with your teammates or peers after competitions to enhance a sense of community. Do you see your teammates as people or just athletes?

Four More Ideas …

  • Become more invested in the process (journey) and less on the results (destinations). Although having a ‘win at all costs’ mindset sounds useful. It’s not, trust us. Just ask Lance!
  • Look over your season schedule and breaking it into smaller chunks. Any tangible evidence of improvement can be celebrated as a reward for your dedication and passion. Months lend themselves very well to reviewing and planning. This then frees you up to focus on the processes in between monthly reviews.
  • Glance at your weekly schedule. Do you have enough balance between sporting and non-sporting activities? A reminder quality and quantity are not the same. We want quality to be as high as possible. But quantity want to be “somewhere in the middle”. Too much and too little are dangerous.
  • Consider getting some expert assistance. If you can’t afford to work with a qualified sport / performance psychologists then consider our one of our Metuf programs. If budget is less of a concern then get in touch with us and request details about our 1-on-1 performance psychology services.

Final Thoughts

Enjoyment – and in particular a sense of fun – may not be as easily defined as other core components of performance such as physical capabilities, technical consistency or tactical wisdom. However, if you are able to conceptualise what you love about your chosen sport and take steps to improve upon this you will give yourself every chance of climbing towards the top and staying there.

We will leave the final word to Jonty Rhodes. legendary South African cricketer and fielder. The below is taken from this full article.

What is the key to being a good fielder?
First and foremost you have to enjoy being out there. If you’re enjoying it, and you’re loving what you’re doing, even if it is 90 overs in a Test match, it never really seems like hard work. That allows you to stay sharp and focused. Commentators often complimented me on my anticipation, but I was expecting every single ball to come to me. In fact I wanted every ball to come to me. Fielding can become hard work, but if you’re enjoying it then it doesn’t feel like work.