To succeed in sport, players are required to perform at high levels under conditions that are both physically and mentally demanding. Players must execute near-perfect technique while every element around them is trying to prevent it. This is particularly true in cricket, where just one momentary lapse in concentration can mean the end of your innings.
So having talent is one thing. But growing research suggests that players with mental toughness are able to make better use of their talent and reach higher levels of success. Mental toughness is the edge that helps you remain determined, focused, confident, in control, and ultimately perform better under pressure.
Mental toughness involves 13 critical skills that are required in a cricketer’s general attitude, during training, during matches, and after matches. Let’s explore each of these skills in some more detail:
1. Believe in your ability
Reflect on what it took to get where you are now. Take confidence from the talent you have already displayed and the hard work that you have put in. Know that it is this talent and hard work that will propel you through any obstacle you face. Have an unshakable belief that you will achieve what you want and fulfill your potential.
2. Focus on your vision
Have a clear vision of what your end goal looks like. Maintain an exclusive focus on that end goal and do not give in to short term gains that put your vision in jeopardy. To be effective, your vision must be the number one priority in your life. However that’s not to say that it should completely consume your life. Equally important is the ability to switch off in your downtime to refresh the mind and body for the long journey ahead.
3. Motivate yourself with long term goals
In your cricketing career, you will spend many more hours training than you will playing matches. Training will be both physically and mentally demanding. And you won’t always be improving. Sometimes things you try won’t work, you’ll hit patches of bad form and more. To get through these times, you need to continue to remind yourself of why you are putting in the hard work, what it’s all for. Have the patience, discipline, self-control, and belief to push through to reach your full potential.
4. Control your training environment
The most successful players control their environments and have it work for them. This may seem like a trivial mind trick but understanding how to see a disadvantage as an advantage is incredibly powerful in becoming mentally tougher than your opponent.
Imagine for example that you’re bowling in the nets at training. It’s hot, you’re tired, thirsty, and want to take a break. The training conditions are breaking you down. Take a moment to stop and reframe the situation. Think instead that the environment is working for you. You are in control. The heat and humidity is working for you to break the batsman down. He’s losing concentration, the heat is sapping his energy, he’s not moving his feet, a wicket is only moments away.
5. Push yourself to the limit
Cricket training can be tough. It takes concentration, repetition, long hours and it often hurts (cricket ball to the inner thigh, anyone?). You need to love that. Know that when it’s hurting the most and you’re about to give up, that’s when you’re developing both skill and mental toughness. That’s the moment that others quit and that’s why you’ll have the edge come match day.
You also have to love competition. Learn to recognise the opportunities in training to beat an opponent. At these moments, ramp up your focus and intensity. Find a way to win even if it’s just with sheer willpower. That’s not to say that you will always win because at times, you won’t. But it will develop your ability to recognise similar moments during matches and to elevate your performance at critical times.
6. Handle pressure
In any form of competition athletes face pressure and anxiety. Players with high level mental toughness love that pressure. They thrive under it. It’s an opportunity to show their skills when others simply can’t. But wanting to perform under pressure and actually being successful under pressure are two different things.
To actually be successful under pressure you firstly you need to cope with the anxiety and secondly you need to make the right decisions. There are many strategies to help cope with competition anxiety which we will explore in a following article but a lot of it comes down to knowing what to do. If you have practiced a situation in training over and over, for example, bowling the last over of a T20 match, you can be more confident in your skill and how to approach the situation. You feel less pressure and are therefore able to perform at a high level and are more likely to be successful.
7. Believe in your success
Just as you have an unshakable belief in your ability, you must be completely confident in your ability to win the match you are playing. This should border on internal arrogance. And you must believe that you will win until every possible opportunity to win has passed. Throughout the match you will make mistakes and things will happen that make it harder to win. But there should be no doubt in your mind that you will come back from them.
8. Regulate your performance
Regulating performance during matches is similar to pushing your limits in training. Players with mental toughness know when they see pivotal moments that can change a match. At these moments you need to go up a gear and outperform your opponent when it matters most. You need to have that killer instinct to own the moment when you can take victory.
9. Focus on your role
With the ultimate goal of winning the match, you need to have a clear plan for how you will achieve it and what your role is within that plan. For example, if your teams needs to score 200 runs in the last innings to win the match, your role as an opening batsman might be to see off the opening bowlers and anchor partnerships as your teammates score the runs. There will be distractions, a desire to play aggressively at times, and more but a total focus on your role and the desire to fight ball after ball for the team’s success is what defines mental toughness.
10. Be aware of and control your thoughts and feelings
You know that when you’re feeling good you perform at your best. And we’ve established that mentally tough players always believe they can win and are in control. But you are human. And it’s inevitable that your thoughts and feelings are always changing on a positive to negative scale. Athletes with high level mental toughness are able to identify when thoughts and feelings begin to turn negative or doubt creeps in. At these moments you need to be able to reframe these thoughts from a positive perspective to maintain optimal performance.
11. Control the match environment
Just as you control the training environment, so too must you control the environment during matches. Not everything in a match will go to plan. From your preparation, to the weather, pitch conditions, umpires, performances of teammates, and more. But you need to be able to handle the adversity, reframe these disadvantages as advantages and get the job done regardless.
12. Handle failure
In any form of competition, there are winners and losers. In cricket you can even fail while your team is successful. Failure is felt by all that compete and it will happen to you. So in that context it is important to acknowledge that you weren’t successful this time but more importantly, you need to understand why. Understanding why identifies the areas you need to improve.
And the “why” is never a factor outside of your control because as a mentally tough player, everything is under your control. Got an unfair LBW decision? Reframe that perception as you needing to practice alternate shots that don’t play in front of the pad and remove the chance of LBW. That is something you can control and will help you to be successful in a similar situation next time.
13. Handle success
And finally, take the time to celebrate accomplishing a goal or a good performance. Enjoy the fruits of your hard work but know when to refocus on the next challenge. Keep in perspective that this achievement is just a stepping stone to your ultimate goal. Tomorrow there is more work to be done because you better believe the person you just beat is already back working to take your trophy.
Talent is important but mental toughness is the amplifier. Mentally tough players display their talent at a higher level and more consistently. And the great thing is, just like skill, mental toughness can be trained and improved. Use this article to identify which of the 13 skills you can work on. Know that some days you’ll be great at some and not others. It will fluctuate and that’s ok, it’s a journey and you’ve got time.
In following articles, we’ll explore techniques to develop each one of these 13 skills and improve your mental toughness and cricket performance. So if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to our email list so we can let you know as soon as they are available.