Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
Sledging in Sport
Sledging is a term used in sport to describe the practice whereby some players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposition. The purpose is to try to weaken the opponent’s concentration, thereby causing him / her to make mistakes or under-perform.
Does it have a place? Is it fair? Does it take away from the skill of the game? Unfortunately, those questions are not up for debate. Until rules are implemented to eradicate sledging from sport, it is something that has to be dealt with effectively by athletes, coaches and umpires of all ages.
Sledging is the norm in more sporting arenas than you would initially realise. The soccer Mum who singles out the opponent playing against her son; the tennis hotshot who grunts more than Serena Williams; the bowls player who subtly reminds their opponent that they have an insurmountable lead and it might be time to hit the bar; the swimmer who boasts about their personal best at the last national meet; or even the inebriated punter who feels the need to remind the comedian that they should have stuck to their day job.
Topically, an obvious example is within Australia’s national sport – cricket. The publicity during the current Indian tour of Australia has reached the Prime Minister, as tension between the two test nations hits a palpable level. Mr Abbott reminisced about his cricketing at Oxford University, “I couldn’t bat, I couldn’t bowl, I couldn’t field, but I could sledge, and I think I held my place in the team on this basis…”
Regardless of the arena in which sledging occurs, it is up to the individual “sledgee” or athlete to respond. In what can be likened to a form of bullying to reduce the skill of the contest, sometimes the best response may be as simple as no response at all. In the majority of cases, responding with an improved performance will quickly silence the most boisterous sledger. Is it always that simple? When sledging becomes personal, and at times close to the truth, how do you look past this to focus on performance? Techniques to promote concentration, resilience or ‘flow’, are fast becoming a mainstay of many high performance athletes’ preparation, and Condor Performance psychologists draw on an evidence based model in which athletes are able to decide on the spot whether there is a need to respond, or to tunnel their effort in another, more productive, direction.
Sledging, as Mitchell Johnson, Australia’s strike pace bowler sees it, spurs him on to bowl faster and refocus on his own performance – an effective way of managing emotions and concentration during high pressure competition. Johnson is an example of a player who is able to assess quickly what can and cannot affect him, and use the situation to his advantage. You can only imagine the state of play if Johnson was to allow anger and frustration to take over his mindset.
“It was quite interesting, it took my mind off the game which was a good thing because I wasn’t focused on the scoreboard,” Johnson assessed of India’s verbal tactics. Johnson added that he was in such a ‘zone’ that he didn’t notice when he reached the milestone of 50 runs.
Whilst on Cricket, I will leave you to think about how you would address one of the most infamous cricket sledges, between Sir Viv Richards and Greg Thomas. In a county match in England, Thomas was in the midst of bowling to Richards, managing to send consecutive balls whizzing past the bat. After Richards played and missed a third consecutive ball, Thomas said: “It’s red, it’s round. Now $@%ing hit it!”.
If you’re wondering, Richards took that moment to draw his focus back to his own effort and the present moment, showed little emotion and preceded to hit the next ball out of the ground. Richards’ response: “You know what it looks like now go and get it.”