How to Handle Pressure
It’s said by wise – and not so wise – people that really good cricketers know how to deal with pressure.
That’s the factor that makes the difference because those who can perform in the tightest situations are those most likely to succeed.
Different players have different ways of framing pressure, but it all boils down to one simple thing.
We all know the “net player” who looks brilliant in practice and terrible in matches. To some extent we are all somewhere on that scale. There is no more intrinsic jeopardy in games.
You are the one applying the pressure to yourself by making the game more important than nets. It’s not like someone is shooting at you.
So if you are the one applying pressure, you can be the one who releases it.
It’s why international teams who have been well-beaten in a series - with the pressure off - rally in the last match.
So it’s just a matter of getting out of your own head and getting used to ignoring the feeling of pressure.
The easiest way to do that is to have the experience of succeeding under pressure.
When you have felt pressure and succeeded anyway you become more confident because you know you can do it again.
You begin to wonder what all the fuss was about.
It’s why playing your fiftieth game is much easier than playing your first.
(Duncan Fletcher as England coach wanted players to have thirty ODI games under their belts before big tournaments for just that reason).
So play lots of games, and don’t forget you can rack up practice sessions to add pressure too.
When you get through it you start to thrive instead of cowering.
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This is very true, but how do we help it? As a captain, quite often I think giving people a very specific role helps reduce the pressure on them. So tell them you want them to play time and not worry about runs, or maybe look to score quickly and not worry about getting out, and as a result they will often play far better with the single objective than if you just say something generic like "just play your own game" or something complex like "try to bat through 20 overs but be sure to keep the run-rate up". It's far easier to focus on one task at a time.
Alternately as a player, I like the phrase "practice like you play, then play like you practice". So all through winter and spring when you're in the nets, visualise yourself as being in a match situation and play accordingly. Then when summer rolls around and you're finally in a game, visualise yourself as being in the nets. You know you were easily good enough to play this standard of bowling a week ago, so just do the same thing, and play one ball at a time. Suddenly the pressure melts away.
For me, I try to get the pressure off by getting some throwdowns before I bat. But when I get throwdowns I tend to practice more adventurous shots, such as the pull. I actually feel as if im already dominating the bowling before I go out there. And I also think it puts some pressure on the oppositon, they must be thinking 'don't bowl short to this guy!'.
One of the biggest problems that I see youngsters facing at club level, especially before they develop experience and strength, is that they put pressure on themselves by finding it difficult to score at a reasonable pace without resorting to injudicious slogging.
We try to resolve this by helping them in practices to direct more of their shots between fielders, using stationary fielders to get them used to the idea of finding the gaps, and of using the pace of the ball to generate scoring opportunities behind square on both off and leg side without taking unnecessary risks (and to be willing to take byes and legbyes as much as personal runs).
So, instead of becoming bogged down, they find themselves with more opportunities for singles, and take the pressure of themselves.
This can be added to by working on the running between the wickets - having a better feel for where there is a quick single makes scoring much easier and puts the pressure onto the fielding side. (There are a couple of good ideas for drills lurking around this site re running). We play indoor cricket in the off season, and find this helps both in judging a run and in being prepared to take a calculated risk when running, as well as providing good experience for youngsters and being a good training opportunity for shot placement.
I'm considering trying to get some of my teenage club members to play some indoor cricket this winter, because it does tend to teach the things that you don't learn in the nets - things like angling the balls into the gaps and running aggressively but judiciously.
I do agree that one of the hardest things for a young batsman to do is to find his own tempo. I think one of the primary causes for this are the way nets are run: in many net sessions people either simply play time aand try not to get out, or resort to slogging every ball, then when it comes to a game situation they only have these two modes in their locker and nothing in between. The whole "6 balls left, 20 to win" thing is a prime example of bad net management.