My brain power depends on my retained mastery of analyzing in detail what’s happening in my world and in my mind and body. I must continue to practice to retain my constructive and analytic powers. The goal is to be the master of my environment” – Michael Merzenich
Free Hit contributor – Sandeep Rodrigo
Another year has finished, and if you thought the Sri Lankan Cricket ODI team hit rock bottom in 2017, think again, 2018 was abysmal. With the world cup less than 6 months away and in seam and swing wickets of England, if anyone’s expecting the Sri Lankan team to get past the group stage is an eternal optimistic. But then again, as Sri Lankan cricket team fans, aren’t we all.
So what’s going on? For me for general success in sports you need a talent pool, infrastructure and sound strategy. Failing all, when stars align a miracle will sometimes bring you a one-off success punching above the big boys. i.e Leicester City 2015/16.
A country like Sri Lanka with cricket embedded in our DNA would always produce the talent whether it’s the orthodox or unorthodox kind. From the times of Mahadevan Sathasivam (labelled the best batsman in the world by Frank Worrell and Garfield Sobers) to the modern-day greats, talent has been rich and in abundance in the Sri Lankan cricket team. Whilst it’s harsh to compare the current crop with the Sanga’s, Mahela’s, Murali’s et al, the rave reviews about players like Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya De Silva, etc from the coaches do show the confidence in their talent. This is reinforced by the form defying, game changing, jaw dropping performances the young lot have produced sporadically in the recent past. Let’s not forget that during Sanga’s early days we complained about his lack of keeping skills, Mahela going through 9 innings of a world cup with only 21 runs and Sanath scoring his 1st ODI 100 in his 71st match 5 years in to his career (at the time average of 15.18 and a strike rate of 69.41).
Infrastructure refers to the administration, domestic competitions, support staff and facilities. Where to begin with the infrastructure in Cricket in Sri Lanka? Having said that administration and domestic competition (high level of school’s cricket and not so high level of club standards) in Sri Lanka has been this unstable and with much room for improvement during the times of the golden era as well. And if at all, the quality of support staff and facilities have improved beyond bounds now with the influx of money coming in to the game.
In my view, the problem is with the strategy. Strategy is two-fold, the on-field cricket strategy and the more individualistic mental strength and development. I will leave the on-field strategy for another day, and there’s plenty more qualified and well paid people for that.
This article is about the mental approach to cricket and being an elite sports professional.
Anxiety and Energy management –
You are the greatest talent the world has ever seen, and you diligently practice for hours on end. But what do you do when you are the new batsman at the crease, your partner is on 75, you are making your debut, 30,000 fans screaming for you at the Ketharama, with 5 runs to score of 2 balls. What do you do? Yes, you may look to hit a six, or try to take a single to let the senior partner manage the last ball, but to do either, you must manage your anxiety, your energy, your fears, your excitement or whatever the countless emotions that may hit you at the time. Over the 7 hours of the duration of the game, it is the ones who manage these emotions that will ultimately succeed. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a commonly used method in increasing performance in professionals in high tense situations.
Attention and concentration –
Catches win matches and then you can put a large blame of the Sri Lankan losses to a bucketload of dropped catches. You are not only giving a 2nd life to the batsman but also downing the morale of the team. Fielding is about attention and concentration, waiting around aimlessly for 25 overs without touching the ball and then suddenly running full speed and diving to take a catch at the edge of the boundary. The commentators saying how ‘sharp’ he was on the field; the ability to focus and concentrate for a long period of time with your mind expecting the ball every second is that sharpness. It’s a big part of batting and bowling as well. The good thing is that this can be improved with various techniques including attention control, techniques to expand awareness and methods like meditation. Take that back, don’t see the current crop of Instagram stars taking a moment to meditate.
As with any team whether in the business world or the sports world, effective communication is the tool for enhanced output which enables the sum of all in being greater than the collection of the individuals. Coach to team, captain to team and between team mates improving communication leads to creating a better approach to the goals set through improving the group cohesion. In the recent ODI’s there’s been one individual performance of high quality but has been let down through the lack of support. Effective communication can build on players understanding the individual roles and responsibilities within the team.
Goal setting –
To be the best, you must want to. In the modern world of lucrative contracts, celebrity status and social media, it’s very easy to forget or distract yourself from the reason you are there playing for the national team. As a boy growing up, you wanted to emulate the cricketing heroes of the generation. You work hard, showcase your talent and reach the national team. The good will keep doing what they did, the great will push hard and strive to improve every day. Clear and achievable goals are the path to keep the drive and motivation. Whilst most elite sportsman will not admit it in public, they will have set goals to achieve throughout their careers. The important thing is to set smaller achievable goals and keep hitting them and re-evaluating as you progress. It is refreshing to see Dimuth Karunaratne recently speaking about the goals he has set including reaching a certain number of 100’s. It is also no coincidence to see him elevated to test vice captaincy and going through a quite long purple patch with the bat. Most importantly seeing a constant improvement year on year.
Imagery, Visualization, Mental Practice –
If you are lucky you might be in the staring line-up in a World Cup final. If you are Mahela or Sangakkara you might be in 5. But in most cases, it is a once in a life time opportunity and you are called upon to show up and be at your absolute best. Imagery, Visualization, Mental Practice allows you to prepare well in advance, it allows you to mentally familiarize with the possible challenges and plan solutions. While a world cup final may come once in your lifetime, with these tools you will be better prepared and less overawed by the occasion.
Sometimes your biggest enemy is yourself. A wondering mind, bad habits, getting carried away and being caught up in the moment are some of the things on a field along with many others that will lead to an instant of madness that may cost you a game. Your parents, your coaches, the captain or your non-striker could be in your ear constantly with advice and guidance but there is no one other than yourself whose words matter the most. Whether it is keep telling yourself to leave the ball outside off, ignore the annoying opposition keeper or working yourself up to bowl 145 kmph on the 3rd session of a tiring day, self talk is a time tested tool to keep your mind alert.
Team building –
Recently the Sri Lankan team has adopted to singing a team song after victories. This is obviously taking out a page from the famous Aussie dressing room tradition of singing as a team with an appointed song master. The difference is, you go to the social media of the Sri Lanka players and you will see the ‘team song’ in multiple videos and multiple angles, where as I dare you to find a single video of the Aussie’s doing it. So is this an actual team building activity or a bit more of a show? Team building is more about trust, respect, loyalty and going to war for your teammates. In the past the Sri Lankan team has shown the ‘siege mentality’, fighting as a team to win from unexpected positions, with the world against them and with back to their walls. This phenomenon has become very rare in the recent years.
What is the message sent to the team when one of your senior players whose recently been dropped, comes back in to the team, scores a hundred, sends a cheeky message to the dressing room / management and gets injured the next game which ironically was part of the reason for being dropped in the first place? That really does not speak much for respect and discipline. Team work is probably the hardest of the above to conquer, as it is not down to one person but is also the one that will give you the highest dividends.
Talent you are born with, and skills you develop with hours of practice and dedication. But what completes the package is the highest level of mental commitment, which creates drive, motivation and the hunger to reach the top of the top.
From his tricky start to wicket keeping Sangakkara ended up having 482 ODI dismissals, the highest in the history of ODI cricket. Sanath ended up scoring 27 more hundreds in his next 362 matches ending as number 1 for Sri Lanka and 4th overall in the charts. We all know about the majestic hundred Mahela scored in the final of the 2011 world cup.
Sri Lanka team no doubt has a wealth of talent and skill. There’s more than technical and development support around. It’s time to unlock the power of your mind.
The difference between good and great is a personal choice.
Make that choice.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ThePapare.com