Mental Health and Cricket

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Dr Fawad Kaiser

Clinically speaking, the ability is a 10 to 20 per cent requirement. You need 80 to 90 per cent mental strength. Glenn McGrath, a former Australian cricketer, once said, “Cricket is a game that obviously requires talent, but when talent is equal, as it so often is, the formula for success comes from strength of mind

To understand mental health in elite sport, it is worth considering the concept of mental toughness and how that may impact any professional. There is a belief that mental toughness and mental health are contradictory in elite sport.
What is this thing called mental toughness? In simple words, mental toughness provided the performer with a psychological advantage over their opponent. Mentally tough performers consistently remained determined, focused, confident and in control of the pressures and demands of their sport.
The game of cricket – and in particular the T20 World Cup – offers many mental challenges for players. Sports psychology is therefore recognised as an integral part of players’ development to optimise performance along with establishing positive mental health.
In the sport of cricket, players and coaches sign up to experience a vast spectrum of feelings–the abundance of joy and happiness gleaned from an important match victory to the terrorising anxiety when preparing for a World Cup final, to disappointment and dejection following a defeat. To optimise performance, players must make the most effective use of their emotions.
Cricket is a sport that brings along many psychological challenges and demands that players must deal with to be successful. What are the main psychological factors that players likely encounter and what psychological techniques are, therefore, important to promote effective player thinking, behaviour and performance?
Anecdotal reports in the media indicate that taking on the captain role can have both positive and negative effects on maintaining personal performance standards.
In sum, arguably, the biggest challenge to a cricketer is not the learning of the skills as most players have reasonable techniques. Instead, the biggest challenge is being able to deal with the many psychological factors that can affect thinking and, ultimately, performance during a game.
Current batting coach of Pakistan Cricket Team, Matthew Hayden, former Australian cricketer, is well-qualified to teach Pakistan Team players. He said that self-efficacy or confidence was the key to success in any sport. When you have it, you feel like you are never going to lose it and when you haven’t got it, you feel like you are never going to get it.
Self-efficacy levels are proposed to impact sports performance by determining levels of motivation that will be reflected in the challenges individuals undertake, the effort they expend, and their levels of perseverance. A consistent emotional state, for example, remaining relaxed when he/she plays and misses, is likely to play a large part in any cricketer’s consistent performances. Players need to enjoy the highs of cricket like scoring a century and drawing confidence from these successes, but of parallel importance is letting mistakes or adverse situations pass without influencing how players feel. Indeed, a relaxed mindset asserts the importance of emotional regulation for sports performance.
Given the start-stop nature of cricket, the potentially long duration involved and the many internal and external distractions (player self-talk, scoreboard, spectators, the opposition), cricketers need to be proficient in regulating their concentration to be successful. The former England test captain Alastair Cook has reflected many times in the media that his ability to bat for prolonged periods and deal with distractions is mainly due to his experiences of belonging to a school choir from an early age, which required him to spend long hours rehearsing and focusing on the words and chords.
At the same time, we need to remember that we do not want players to be having technical thoughts, as this will ultimately stop efficient skill execution and encourage possible choking responses e.g., paralysis by analysis. The ideal approach would be to develop consistent thoughts that link with the behaviours that already exist as part of a player’s preparations. So, it could be that a very simple mental routine would involve saying ‘stance, balance, prepare, watch the ball.
Finally, emotional control. It is a mix of high skill levels and being clear mentally, strong-minded. With the noise and pressure, it is about how you control your emotions.
The role of the captain in cricket carries many challenges in comparison to other sports. When the captain is a top-order batsman, as may well have been the case with Babar Azam, it is common for opposition bowlers to target them early on in a series or the world cup matches in an attempt to reduce their batting confidence but also the confidence of the team. Little wonder, then, that anecdotal reports in the media indicate that taking on the captain role can have both positive and negative effects on maintaining personal performance standards – some thrive under the pressure, whilst others suffer, due partly to increasing associated roles and responsibility. So far, Babar Azam has shown that he has the self-belief and mental strength for the job.
The game of cricket–and, in particular, the T20 World Cup–offers many mental challenges for players. There is one key aspect that determines success in life other than talent and hard work, its attitude. While the former two capabilities are often used in tandem to determine or applaud achievements, what generally gets overlooked is an all-important mental approach. This fact is strongly applicable everywhere, including cricket.