By Dr Fawad Kaiser —
In cricket, a batsman nearing a century will frequently manifest signs of negotiating the aptly named ‘nervous nineties’ and he would hone his skills through mental process while refusing the opposition that cruel moment of satisfaction.
Sticky wicket; this phrase comes from the game of cricket and refers to an uncovered cricket pitch that is in the process of dying out after being affected by heavy rain. A hard crust forms over the soft, wetsoil. This helps the ball to bite, turn and lift variably. On a sticky wicket, batting is awkward and sometimes hazardous, as the ball will spin, seam and bounce sharply and unpredictably. Given the absence of material tangibility, symbols occupy the space and I have chosen the sticky wicket metaphor to speak about the conceptual trajectories in the field of cricket which influence ways of thinking and performance in sports. Unsure ground provokes intense focus, as well as anxiety. Together this concentration and uncertainty propels the game. Mental toughness works best when games are played out and on, unstable ground. While it may be easier, safer, and more solid to rehearse tried and true pitches and while those matches might be interesting to watch and play, glory emerges from the space where expertise conditioned through discipline meets determination and any given circumstances.
Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to generally; cope better than your opponents with the many demands [competition, training, life style] that sport places on performer; specifically be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure. Specific exploration of the relationship between mental toughness and coping in cricket is rated as the most important construct that determines success in cricket. Allan Border, famous Australian cricketer, believed that mental toughness was reflected in a cricketer’s ability to cope with stress and resultant emotion. According to Lazarus and Folkman, coping is a conscious process that consists of thought and actions that are directed towards reducing or eliminating stress.
What is this thing called mental toughness in the world of sport? Mentally tough cricketers believe in their abilities, effectively manage their attentional focus, persevere through tough times, desire success, expect positive outcomes, effectively manage their emotions, and understand their sport context. It is this constellation of key facets that enables a mentally tough cricketer to effectively negotiate the “ups and downs” of everyday life as well as acute (e.g., being dropped from the national team) and chronic (e.g., long-term injury) stressors.
Several researchers have recognized the important role coaches play in the development of mental toughness in sport, whereas others have described techniques and processes specifically designed for this purpose.
The specific purpose of this article is to reflect a strengths-based approach to developing mental toughness, which draws on principles from applied positive psychology with the hope that Coach David Whatmore, Acting Chairman, Najam Sethi and new Chief selector PCB, Moeen Khan would cast their attention and help Pakistan Cricket Team improve from the advanced knowledge in the field of Bio-Psychometrics and Cognitive Psychology rather than the orthodox, unreliable, invalid nonscientific therapeutic methods adopted by their current therapists.
In an attempt to develop mental toughness among professional cricketers consider strengths-based coaching of mental toughness in cricket. Strengths as things that we do, that we are good at and that energize us, such as realized strengths that we get to do regularly, or unrealized strengths that we don’t get as much opportunity to use so much and yet are our greatest areas for development. Learned behaviors, on the other hand, are activities we are good at but drain us of energy, which is particularly relevant for elite/professional cricketers because if activities are not energizing, doing them repeatedly can lead to an increased sense of feeling disengaged, disenfranchised, and even burned out.
Finally, our weaknesses are things we are not good at and also drain us. Subsequently, from the model, the best advice is to marshal realized strengths, by using them differently to best effect; maximize unrealized strengths, by finding opportunities to use them more; moderate learned behaviors, by not using them too much; and minimize weaknesses, by finding ways to stop having to focus on them at all. Unlike other aforementioned strengths-finding approaches, however, if weaknesses matter for performance and cannot be ignored, the Realise2 Model provides five ideas on how to minimize their relevance and impact on performance. This includes belief in your ability to achieve success [i.e. self-belief] and an awareness of and ability to use emotions to facilitate optimal outcomes; the desire for achieving success and acting upon such thoughts i.e. success mind set; thriving when challenged to execute the requires skills and procedures effectively and an awareness and understanding of the performance environment and how to apply this knowledge to achieve success [i.e. contextual intelligence].
Understanding the coach’s role in the development of mental toughness is paramount and we would anticipate that a strategy designed to combine traditional psychological skills training with strengths-based approaches is considered as an option. Nonetheless, I would encourage David Whatmore to consider using strengths-based approaches to developing mental toughness at any age and at any competitive level because “realizing our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference.”
Dr Fawad Kaiser is a forensic psychiatrist at ‘Care Principles’ in Norwich having been Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Assistant Dean of University Affairs at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad.