“You Can’t Unbake The Cake”
By Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)
This month’s Mental Toughness Digest is another recent radio interview between Tim Webster of Maquarie Sports Radio and one of our sport psychologists – Gareth J. Mole. Audio on top, transcription below. Enjoy!
Narrator: Live on air and online at sportsradio.com.au. Weekend nights with Tim Webster.
Tim Webster: Now the psychology of sport and the man we love to talk to about all of this from Condor Performance, Gareth Mole, who joins me on the line. G’day mate.
Gareth Mole: Hi Tim.
Tim Webster: Look, very interesting article by one of your colleagues, Chris Pomfret, on post competition reviews. Now the subject this year of course, is Cricket Australia, you know how Cricket is. But in a general sense, post competition reviews would be commonplace, would they not?
Gareth Mole: They’re very commonplace Tim. And I would probably sum what I would say as they’re far more commonplace than they should be.
Tim Webster: Okay. So in other words, do we examine performance too much?
Gareth Mole: Absolutely. And it’s basically comes down to a bit of a flaw. And that is … I meant the intention of a post competition review is well intended. It’s to say look, we’ve just gone out there and we’ve tried our best or we just performed in the cricket match or in the golf tournament or whatever it is. And we want to improve. We want to find the areas we weren’t very good at and we want to improve. Now the fundamental flaw in the mindset Tim, is that the number of different things that go into a performance, particularly a team performance could run into the tens of thousands if you really break it down to what was that player thinking in that moment and how much time did that player spend practicing his kicking technique for example.
Gareth Mole: And so the idea of watching a cricket match back, or watching any sporting performance back is a little bit like eating a cake and trying to work out what was wrong with the cake by the actual cake. It’s just an impossible task.
Tim Webster: You can’t do it.
Gareth Mole: And in our experience, often when we just say to people, just focus all your energy into optimal preparation and just let the cookie crumble, it’s amazing how big an impact that often has.
Tim Webster: Yeah. Look as far as team sports are concerned, it’s all good in my view. And I know technology plays a very large part in all of this now. If you’ve lost a game, to have the Monday off and go and have a look at the video on Tuesday and the coach says well, have a look at that, that’s where we want wrong, that’s all good. But when I talk about over examining it, have we got into that realm now. And we’ll talk about Pat Howard and Cricket Australia in particular. Are we getting too precise with athletes?
Gareth Mole: I think so Tim. I think we spoke about it last time from memory, the idea that one of the underpinning factors of successful sporting performances is enjoyment. You know this element that we seem to have when we’re young and it can easily be eroded by the high performance system, where basically everybody in the high performance unit is really only results focused. And therefore you get this knock on effect with leads to examining every single thing. To the point of stupidity to be honest.
Tim Webster: Yeah and when you’re winning, you are going to having fun, aren’t you. And I wonder how often coaches actually say to players, hey listen above all else, just got out there and have fun because really Gareth, that’s what sports about.
Gareth Mole: Yeah. And the mentally astute ones, the ones who actually track the sports science into the psychology of the optimal performance. And there are some out there. Those are the ones that are quite likely to do it, because those are the ones who have seen case studies like Usain Bolt for example, during his obviously amazing athletic career, where he was intentionally injecting fun into what you would expect to be the most pressurised situations. And of course, seeing the results of that.
Gareth Mole: So I think if we were to have a look at the coaching landscape at the moment, you’ll find the number of coaches who are saying to their athletes, you know what, at the end of the day your primary objective is to enjoy yourself. I think they’re still in the minority. And I think the main reason for that is they incorrectly assume that that kind of advice is actually going to result in a decline in performance, in that people will clown around and sort of be larrikins, when it actual fact, it’s the total opposite. The “Relaxed Competition Mindset” is often the one that is necessary for you to play your best sport.
Tim Webster: What about a situation where, and god you hear this often, the team, the athlete are incredibly well prepared. They’re fit, they’re healthy, they’re feeling great. All of the tactics are in place. And it all falls apart and you get flogged. I mean as you say, there could be 10,000 reasons for that, and sitting around analysing forever, how much does that help?
Gareth Mole: Yeah, it doesn’t help at all. You’ll never be able to successfully unbake the cake. That’s the term that we use in my work. You can’t unbake the cake. Eat the piece of cake and go tell me about the quality of the eggs that went into that cake. It’s just impossible. You are completely correct. One of the things that is very common … and if we look at the basic pillars of sporting performance, there’s really four that underpin everything. So there’s the physical, so strength, fitness, flexibility. There’s the tactical, which is decision making. There’s the technical so literally how you hold a cricket bat. And there’s the mental.
Gareth Mole: So two of them are brain related and two of them are body related. And often what happens at the highest level is that athletes tend to very similar in three of those areas. They tend to physically, technically and tactically very similar, but it’s quite normal for some of the best athletes still to be mentally only average. And of course your example there is a classic, whereby the coach says you know we did everything in preparation. What they really mean by that Tim, is they did everything technically, physically and maybe tactically. They assumed the mentally side would take care of itself.
Gareth Mole: And the reason they got flogged is because their opposition took the mental preparation very seriously.
Tim Webster: Yeah right. Now Chris’s article is very interesting actually. And it’s worth a read. And it goes on to talk about and we hear these often. Commitment and concentration and confidence get that creativity, communication and then consistency. And the last one, culture. Now that’s where Cricket Australia has been highly criticised in that report. We can’t go through the whole thing. I think you’ve probably read all of it and I’ve read parts of it. The salient bits if you like. And everyone’s taking the fall. The chairman’s gone, the CEO’s gone, Mark Taylor’s resigned. Pat Howard was going to go, the high performance manager, and he’s gone early. And the guy that was involved in broadcasting.
Tim Webster: So it’s pretty much the lot. And I said on the air two or three weeks ago, that probably needs to happen because there’s something wrong with that culture. There has to be.
Gareth Mole: Yes it looks like that is the case. And what we don’t know is how much of those cultural issues where down to those individuals and their personalities, their preferences. And how much was it related to the bigger picture. The Argus review for example, which essentially said, it was a very much performance based review. In fact Pat Howard’s role was conceived via the Argus review. In other words, tied to the review, his particular role didn’t actually exist. So it’s a tricky one. There’s no doubt that his departure sounds like it’s a good thing. That’s what I’ve heard on the ground. But in terms of blaming, I’m not sure if it was him or whether he was simply going by the playbook that was created during the Argus review.
Gareth Mole: Which of course, if you remember, sort of happened when England successfully retained the Ashes over here.
Tim Webster: Yes that’s right. Yeah. Look we all know that you have to have a corporate entity running something like Cricket Australia, it’s very big business due to broadcast rights and player contracts, that sort of thing. But when you’ve got … bowling coaches, fitness coaches, batting coaches, do you need a high performance manager? I’m just wondering how Pat Howard would have dealt with somebody like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson in the ’70’s and tell them that they had to have an app and tell Pat what they were going to eat that night.
Gareth Mole: Yeah look, it’s a really good question Tim. I, for a long time, had a bit of an issue with the actual term high performance. I sometimes jokingly say where’s the low performance unit?
Tim Webster: You don’t want them.
Gareth Mole: In fact, jokes aside of course, as you’re talking about a conversation we had many months ago about how to invest in sport for … ironically there is an argument to say that that bowling coach who knows so much about how to make the ball reverse swing, maybe he should be spending his time not with the five best bowler’s in Australia, who probably already know more or less how to do that. But with 50,000 young cricketers, all around the country, who have absolutely no idea where to start when it comes to how to hold the ball appropriately to make it swerve in the air.
Gareth Mole: So the whole concept of high performance I think is one that probably wants to have a little bit of examination. To answer your question directly, does cricket or another sport need a high performance manager? Obviously my vote only counts as one, but I was in a boardroom and we we’re voting on this, I would be voting no, it’s completely unnecessary. What you just just said there, the coach by his or her very definition is kind of the high performance manager anyway.
Tim Webster: Of course, that’s right.
Gareth Mole: The performance manager. In fact, if you think about the English Premier League, the coaches there are not actually referred to as coaches, they call them managers.
Tim Webster: That’s right.
Gareth Mole: You know, so the manager of Manchester United, the manager of Liverpool. So I think if we’re talking about structural preferences to benefit Australian sport, I would certainly recommend that there be a lot more of the high performance decision making taken place through the coach and therefore, completely remove the idea of a high performance manager entirely. Or certainly change the nature of what they do, so that they’re not asking athletes to record the amount of carbohydrates they ate on the flight for example, which is what has happened.
Tim Webster: Yes, that’s exactly what’s happened. Look, I don’t how much time … and Pat Howard comes from a rugby background of course. I don’t how how much time he actually spent on the field with the cricketers or if it was done technically via an app. And I don’t want to just stick the boot to Pat Howard, because a lot of people have done that. I think there’s a lot more wrong with Cricket Australia than just him. But as a broad point, it just seems to me that all of these people taking a salary from Cricket Australia, and do we need all of them to get a high performance out of our cricketers?
Gareth Mole: Yeah I don’t think so. And maybe one of the causes is the fact the Cricket from a profitability perspective is one of the most successful sports in Australia. If you look at it from a business perspective, it’s profit, etc., is incredibly strong. And therefore, one of the knock on effects of that might be they have a lot more money to spend on stuff. And therefore, what they’ve ended up with is many too many chefs, simply because they can afford to pay for too many chefs. In many, many, many situations, because of the organic simplicity of sport, often the best policies are the simplest ones. And sometimes that means reducing stuff, simplifying their roles and just letting the guys got out and do what they love to do and do best.
Tim Webster: You know I’m going to come back to Brad Fidler and the success he had with the New South Wales state of origin site. Now there’s plenty of technicality around that. But you know, things like the captain’s run, when all they really do is go for a wander with the football in hand, and try to relax coming up to a big game. So my question to you is, on occasion, do we put too many things into an athlete’s head?
Gareth Mole: Absolutely. Absolutely, without a doubt, and I can say this with a lot of confidence, because it’s what I do six days a week, discussion with athletes and coaches about things like what are you doing in the 60 minutes or in the day before you go out and you play cricket or you go out and compete. And a big chunk of the work that me and my colleagues do at Condor Performance is about actually just reducing the amount of clutter that is in their mind. And sometimes that is difficult work Tim, because it means actually going against their official coach.
Gareth Mole: Sometimes we literally are required to say your coach is very well intended, but he or she doesn’t have any formal training in psychology and obviously we do, that’s what we do, and therefore, on this occasion, you’re just going to need to trust me that the best thing for you to do, and this is where Brad Fidler deserves a huge amount of credit, huge amount of credit, is just, on the day of a competition or the day before a competition, just relax. Do the same things you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re on holiday. If you like going for a coffee, great do that. If you like walking, going for a walk, do that. If you like listening to music, do that.
Gareth Mole: A lot of the things … a lot of the advice might be coming from very serious coaches or high performance type of personnel, may be in complete contrast to that.
Tim Webster: Yeah. Absolutely. Gareth, it’s always terrific to talk to you mate and thank you very much for you time again.
Gareth Mole: No worries Tim.
Tim Webster: Gareth Mole, sports psychologist and all of his stuff’s worth a read at Condor Performance.