Mindset – Can We Coach It?

Back at the start of February, we at school were fortunate enough to witness a batting master class led by Somerset & England batsman Nick Compton. With the best part of thirty pupils, staff and coaches looking on Nick led an outstanding session with four of our boys based around creating a world class defence, as well as dealing with situations that well exceed one’s comfort zone (facing 90mph in essence!). When quizzing one of the boys afterwards I asked him did he feel nervous? Naturally, his response with a slight grin was ‘yes’. When asked was that a good thing he said ‘no, not really.’ I couldn’t help but be intrigued from there on in! ‘So why did you feel nervous?’ I asked him – ‘well because the experience meant something to me, I didn’t want to let anyone down, or make myself look silly!’ Without delving into the research surrounding directional perceptions, the conversation resulted in him actually realising that being nervous can be a positive thing. Having the tools to deal with it then becomes the challenge.

The conversation has stuck with me for a while however and was brought to light this week as the boys embarked on their first outdoor matches for the season. Whether it was a case of pre-season rustiness who knows, but from behind the stumps nerves were evidently present, and most certainly having an impact on decision making and shot selection. Deliveries that had been treated with disdain during the winter were instead being patted back with respect and uncertainty. The reasonable question to ask is simply, why? After several conversations with some, fear of failure (i.e. getting out) was the clear winner which of course has its links with nerves and anxiety. It’s a set of feelings you can understand and empathise with as a teammate, coach and a watchful parent – I experienced similar feelings during my youth (and the odd occasion now!). So how can we as coaches help our players overcome these feelings associated with failure, and develop a mindset that will enable them to express themselves in the way they are capable?

Former Kent, Middlesex & England batsman Ed Smith, now an established writer proposed an interesting and slightly alternative solution in an article last week – he alluded to the notion of detaching yourself from the importance of the situation you are about to encounter. In simpler terms “ridding yourself of the desire to win” prior to performance. Here is a little extract:

Arguably England’s finest batsman of the 1990s (unnamed for reasons that will become obvious) took the same logic to troubling extremes. As he waited to bat (the most anxious moments of a cricketer’s life), he would convince himself that he had just received a phone call informing him that his children had been in an aeroplane crash. The horror of confronting that imaginary news made the immediate challenges of the real world – standing up to the world’s greatest bowlers and dealing with his fear of failure – seem insignificant and manageable. His macabre psychological trick helped him to bat with freedom and self-expression. Honing a sense of perspective, though painfully achieved, became one of his professional strategies. When he told a team-mate how he manipulated his emotions, the reply was instant: “You’re sick!”

Alternative may not be the word to describe at first glance. Bonkers perhaps is more appropriate! When you think about it though, it doesn’t seem as bizarre as you might think. There are even a few sporting examples from recent weeks where there is arguably some support; the first 15 minutes of the Liverpool Norwich game last weekend – Norwich looked nervous and tentative due to the significance of the fixture, and the prospect of relegation – essentially the game meant everything to them. Perhaps to the point when performance became detrimental. Compare their first 15 mins to their performance in the second half (2-0 down and arguably out of the game); positive, attacking almost carefree. It was as if they didn’t have anything else to lose. Could they not have adopted a mindset like that from the start?

Jordan Spieth vs Bubba Watson during the final stages of The Masters is another example – Spieth at one stage was on course for the youngest ever winner of the green jacket. As he got closer and closer, and the pressure grew bigger and bigger his nerves started to tell. Watson on the other hand, already a winner two years ago played as if he had nothing to lose….no surprise what the outcome was! I could go back to the infamous England vs West Indies Stanford $1M T20, acknowledged by many England players at the time to have been too much to handle. I’m sure there are plenty more, but you see where I’m going hopefully.

Now who’s to say that everyone should adopt such an approach or not….probably a much more intelligent and well informed person than myself! Going back to the boys of our school squads at Millfield though, it will be interesting to see how they develop their mindset in a supportive and fiercely competitive environment over the course of the season. Of course, mindset may only get you so far without technical ability or poor shot execution, however I would hedge a bet that those who have a profitable season are those who are prepared to be that little more positive in their mindset. The challenge for us as coaches is finding ways of fostering the best possible mindset for each individual player, to give them the very best chance of success.


Ed Smith Full Article: http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/trick-life-knowing-when-care-and-when-be-careless

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