Whether batter, bowler, keeper or fielder, many players have a fear of failure or worries about specific parts of their game. By beginning the process of tackling those fears now, you can do a lot of work to reduce or even begin to eliminate some of those fears over the winter months.
In this article, we look at ways in which you as a player can learn to fight back and face fears of failure, whatever they are. Is it the first ball you face as a batter? The fear of being out first ball? Possibly as a bowler, you fear being thrown the ball at the end of the innings, or having to bowl defending 10 off the final over? As a fielder, when the last over of the game comes and it is down to a few runs, do you hope that the ball goes anywhere other than to you? As wicket-keeper, do you have fears about taking that difficult half-volley return to complete the crucial run out? Whatever your own personal worry or worries are, we hope that in this article we can offer you some advice to allow you to assert your control over your cricketing fears.
Face Your Fear and Identify It.
Firstly, identify what it is that is at the heart of the fear. Is it that you have a lack of confidence in your own skill or ability?
Do you freeze at the thought of the spotlight falling on you in a critical moment? Is the fear you have based on the thought of letting your teammates down? Perhaps you have a fear of the sense of occasion and your anxieties are worse in ‘big’ games?
When you can work out where the roots of your fears lie, you can begin to put in place the necessary work to tackle it.
There are those who walk among us that have the ability to do no work in the nets, turn up one week to the next and generally churn out performances. Those that fly by the seat of their pants successfully do exist, but for the majority of us mortals, we need to feel prepared. You know yourself and you know how much preparation you need to be at your best. You possibly could get by throwing caution to the wind and seeing what happens, but you will never get the best out of yourself and most importantly, you will have to work far harder to do to try to appease anxiety over your performance if you are underprepared.
Talk positively to yourself.
Fears lie to us and annoyingly they are really good at telling fibsl! Our fears are actually so good at lying that we believe them because we think they are reality. The good news is that because of the way our brain works, we can (to an extent) trick it into believing what we want it to by challenging our fears with positive thoughts. When negative thoughts on your performance arrive unwanted in your head, push back against them and chase them out with positivity. It is possible, with an ongoing drip feed of positive thoughts, to change how you think and what you believe about yourself over time.
Visualise Your Performance
You can visualise in two ways. One way will hold you back, whilst the other will push you forwards to improve performance and self-belief.
To visualise effectively, you need to be able to see very clearly in your head an image of you executing a skill to perfection. To visualise performance with anything less than pinpoint accuracy and minute detail will not affect performance positively. The picture you create needs to be all encompassing, not simply just the skill or action you want to improve.
It is important you see yourself in the image you create with as many positive traits attached to it as possible. See a supremely confident person, someone with energy and strength, someone who is calm and relaxed, someone who is comfortable in the environment you are creating, someone who owns the stage and is standing front and centre of it.
Your brain has no eyes, so as far as it is concerned, the thoughts you are putting into it could be reality. The more realistic you can make your thoughts; real time, colours, details, noises you might hear, even your breathing patterns, particularly your routines, the more you will fool your brain into believing this is reality. Do not forget that the coup de grace, the execution of the skill, needs to be perfect. The perfect position, balance, timing and end result all need to be as perfect as you can make them.
Creating Comforting Familiarity Outside your Comfort Zone
Often our fears are borne out of the unknown, the ‘what ifs?’ The more you can experience of the unknown the more known it will become and the less frightening it will be. Venturing into the unknown to breed familiarity will not come tomorrow or even next week, it will take a journey over a number of weeks or months, but start now and you will get there sooner.
Take facing fast short pitched bowling for example. Whoever you are, against the real fast stuff there are very few batters in the world who are not the tiniest bit squeaky about it. Use your net sessions to take small steps to build up to it. Start by someone throwing balls from a short distance on the full to practice watching the ball and developing confidence in sound defensive and attacking shots, focusing on watching the ball. Progress to using these skills against tennis balls thrown into the ground to further develop your confidence.
Return to the cricket balls thrown on the full harder, increasing the speed and pushing the limits of your courage. If you have access to a bowling machine, set this up to test out your technique (using your positive thought processes!) but if not, ask someone to use the dog stick of simply throw balls bouncing into uncomfortable areas. Over time, pushing yourself steadily further out of your comfort zone, you will begin to find the short pitched bowling less fearsome and more manageable.
At the risk of going down a slightly hippy road with this, meditation can help. In the right calm and quiet environment where you can concentrate wholly on your thoughts in your own space, without disturbance to spend time going through this positive thought process can bring noticeable rewards come the summer.
A Leading Edge now have 3 books for sale on Amazon.co.uk. Cricket: A Leading Edge for Captains is available as a paperback (£12.99) and eBook (£3.99). Books are also from Walkers Bookshops in Oakham and Stamford, and from CM Cricket in Stoughton, Leicester. You can also buy The Ashes Illustrated and Dice Sports, fantastic books for sports fans!