If you had to put cricket into one word, what would you choose?
Some say it's about angles. Others talk about hand-eye coordination, or athleticism. All those things are important but I would choose a different word.
Think about how often you are anxious or afraid as a cricketer; batsmen fear getting out. Bowlers fear getting hit. Wicketkeepers fear dropping the crucial catch.
Even if you have a little more confidence than the average player, you might be afraid of being a success; or afraid of seeming to try to hard; or afraid you are not training enough.
There is always something to fear in cricket.
So good cricketers are the ones who handle fear the best. The ones who can experience their demon dread and carry on regardless.
It's not about being fearless.
Fearless is reckless; fearless is inconsiderate of other players and selfish; and fearless is unrealistic for most of us.
No, handling fear is more complex than pretending it doesn't exist through bluster.
It's about recognising when you are afraid and then getting on with things regardless of the fear.
Because fear is a defence system; it was developed in times when we were in danger of being attacked by a bear or sabre toothed tiger. In those days making the wrong choice was fatal.
The same system kicks in when you are worried about getting out. It's no longer life or death like when we lived in caves but our instinctive brain can't tell the difference.
Fortunately, your rational brain can step in and tell you:
- It's OK to feel that fear, it's a normal reaction.
- It's best to let yourself feel that fear and power through anyway.
Irrational fear can stop you from batting with freedom, from practicing as often as you should, from bowling with pace and consistency and from even playing at all.
But it doesn't have to. Just because it's in your mind, you don't have to listen to the dark voice we all have.
Not many coaches show you how to deal with this fear, but there is no doubt in my mind that it's at the centre of every cricketer's game. It's why people say cricket is 80% mental game.
It's why Mark Garaway has said he would always back a team of mentally tough players like Paul Collingwood over a side made up of talented but fear-dominated cricketers.
So learn the skills of fear management and your game will follow.
It's a topic we cover in detail in the online coaching course How to Use Mental Training to Boost Your Game. Using the course you will learn methods for handling the fearful brain and build your confidence up so you can keep practicing and playing even when your instincts are screaming their lies to you.