Who is going to win the 2017 Ashes? When Joe Root’s and Steve Smith’s teams go head to head, what will be the key factors that lead them to victory? Could the research from sport psychologists help us identify what separates the best cricketers in the world from the rest?
Essentially, what are the psychological attributes needed to help win the Ashes? We dig through the latest research from sports psychology to find out…
Being Psychologically Strong
Mental toughness is essential for elite cricketers. The long periods of competition, being away from home and international media scrutiny can easily take its toll. Research has found that there are 4 key components to developing cricket mental toughness. These included:
- Developing a tough character - independence, resilience, confidence
- Having tough attitudes - willing to take risks, belief in preparation
- Self-awareness – including being focused and honest with yourself
- Environmental influence - surviving early setbacks and positive parental influence
It is interesting to note that many of these areas are also mentioned in separate research on ‘What Makes Olympic Champions So Resilient’. It could well be that although the context is different, the principles underlying expertise may remain the same.
Practice Makes Perfect?
An interesting study explored the impact that training had on performance. In the study, batsmen had to predict where the ball was going to be bowled by the opposition. The ones who were able to accurately guess were labelled ‘high performers’ and the ones who weren’t were ‘low performers’. When their playing history was then analysed, it was found that the high performers had spent considerably more time practising when they were aged between 13-15 years old.
Research has shown that how someone talks to themselves has a significant impact on how they think, feel and behave. It is even linked to their mindset and confidence. A study which considered the use of self-talk in elite cricketers found that it helps increase focus and self-belief, and reduce anxiety during performance. This was found to be especially helpful for when the batsmen walked to crease for their first ball and when facing a new bowler.
One participant used the phrase “ball” as a reminder to focus on the upcoming delivery and to help block out potential distractions. This suggests that something as simple as a one word statement may help cricketers improve their performance.
Thriving Under Pressure
Do you sometimes begin to worry about something and suddenly feel your heart pumping through your chest? Is there a link between your thoughts and your heart rate, and what effect does this have on performance? Well, one experiment answered just this question. This study put 42 academy cricketers through a pressurised batting test, with their cardiovascular reactions recorded as they were being told of the batting test. Viewing the test as challenge lead to superior performance compared to viewing the test as a threat.
What Separates an Effective Team From a Team of Individuals?
In a study of team effectiveness in cricket 21 players, coaches and a sport psychologist who had worked within professional cricket were asked to take part in an interview to help understand their views on the topic. They report that having clear values, regular communication, understanding of everyone’s roles and strong leadership were all found to be important. More information about how to develop a strong team culture can be found here.
You Can Learn The Mental Skills Required for Cricket
So, we have found that a variety of mental attributes and skills are required in elite cricket. But how do we improve these? One study looked at the effects of a mental skills training package on consistency and performance for cricketers. The training included: goal setting, self-talk, imagery, and concentration; all found in previous research to be relevant in cricketing performance. The results found that both consistency and overall performance improved as a result.
Whoever wins the Ashes this year is going to have to play some great cricket. Technical execution and tactical awareness will be important. What will be key is the ability to perform under pressure. Being able to maintain confidence and concentration over a long period of time will prove to be essential to this.