Mental training is just as effective as nets | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Mental training is just as effective as nets

Club cricketers don't practice much. There is not the culture, enthusiasm or time to do so regularly. How do club players get around this?

Sport psychologist James Hamilton may have some answers. In a wide raging conversation with me recently we covered the benefits and techniques involved in good mental training: "Mental training offers ways to practice and hone skills away from the ground that have been shown to be as effective in terms of improvement as actual physical practice." He told me.

Staying Off the Couch

Many people picture mental training as something for the weak willed or mentally unstable. In fact nothing could be futher from the truth.

"That error is the most common source of resistance to mental training." Says James. "No one likes the idea that they need a mind doctor or shrink and I've every sympathy for players' reluctance in that sense." Even top player play on that assumption for ammunition: Glen McGrath making jibes at Monty Panesar before the Ashes for example.

Much to Offer

In fact James revealed that: "It has much to offer someone who wants to improve as a player, especially if they see their improvement as an enjoyable challenge rather than compensation for sagging confidence."

And he should know. James has worked with the best of the best in a wide range of sports including top flight cricket. Interesting then that he thinks that there is little difference between the mental preparation between amateurs and professionals: "There are plenty of recreational players who take their sport more seriously, prepare more carefully, and look after themselves better." he concluded.

I had to ask what this preparation looked like. After all, if there are some club players succeeding at it, there is hope for everyone.

The Mental Demands of Cricket

There are two main areas that cricketers need to work on to be at their best: "Firstly, cricket demands concentration over enormous periods of time - you have to maintain attention, to be ready to react in a fraction of a second to situations that might come once in two or three hours. Secondly, to impose yourself on a game of cricket requires every ounce of your effort over that entire period."

You need to look no further than Shane Warne to see a master of this in action: Pulling every trick of body language, sledging, double bluff and bluster in the field over long periods. "It must be shattering" James says. "Like undergoing a series of eight-hour public exams day after day - in hot sunshine and under the scrutiny of the world - but he's succeeded in doing it for fifteen years and more."

How to be as Mentally Tough as Shane Warne

If Warne is your model, how do you reflect him? Over to James for some ideas to develop your own Warney attitude: "Everyone's situation is unique to them and has to be addressed as such, but what follows will do more good than harm:"

  1. In the company of a good coach, identify and isolate your game strengths and weaknesses. Find out what you can do well, and what you can't. Don't do what you can't - if that is play a particular shot, then don't play that shot if you can avoid it. If you can't bowl a particular kind of ball, eliminate it from your repertoire. The consequence of this is that you will be able to trust yourself on the field in everything you take on. You won't punish yourself for your inability to do what you can't do. You'll play with confidence - justified confidence, based on a realistic analysis of the kind of player you are.
  2. Again, in the company of a good coach, set yourself realistic, challenging goals. Make sure that they are things you can achieve regardless of your team's progress - setting out to score x runs in a season, and then finding yourself running out of partners every week, is self-defeating. Goals focus your mind, heighten your interest and build your strengths resulting in heightened, justified confidence.
  3. You need to relax completely for at least 20 minutes every day to maximise your body's recovery from exercise and activity, so combine that with some useful mental training. Pick a strength, not a weakness, to work on. Flop in a comfortable chair with your eyesclosed, and let yourself relax. Then imagine in your own way - don't worry about clear visual images as you don't need them - the scenario in which you use your strength, and play it through again and again in your head. Imagine yourself getting things right - change things around until you are - and rehearse it all in your head. This is the most effective form of mental training you can do.
  4. Pay attention to your body language - your body posture and facial expression have a prevailing control over your state of mind. Watch Shane Warne in the field - how he walks, how he holds himself, and adapt what he does to your own style and personality.
  5. From any decent NLP textbook - "submodalities" and "anchoring" are directly useful to sportspeople of any kind and worth learning about.

James Hamilton was born in Widnes, Lancashire, in 1968. He graduated from Oxford University in 1991 and has been working in psychotherapy and sports psychology since 1998. He has been a guest expert for The London Times, Sky Sports and Sky One, and has consulted for Radio 4, Channel 4 and variety of interested magazines and websites.

Mental training can improve your game by up to 80% Find out how to have a mental net in the online coaching course "How To Use Mental Training to Boost Your Game" only at PitchVision Academy.



© Copyright miSport Holdings Ltd 2008


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Can you please elaborate on point number 3, i'm not sure what you mean by scenarios. Do you mean just imagine you're in a game and, if you're a bowler, imagine bowling to a batsman, or vise versa?

Yes that's right, simply imagine playing brilliantly. Incredibly it works!

You are so right on the mark. My program Mental Training for Effective Exercise & Weight Control is a program that would be effective in supporting and aligning with your Mental Training for any particular goal. I like your thinking.

Hi it is Peter i was wondering if you could help me with a problem of mine. i am a batsmen and every i train twice a week and i when i do train i have good net sessons and bat very well i keep the ball on the ground for most shots play what the ball deserves. but when i play on sunday i find myself making to many mistakes for example i go and get myself out on an attacking shot when i dont play an attacking shot i get caught behind on a low score i was thinking if i dont have the right mental approch as i would when i am in the nets it could be because i get nervousor i am more relaxed in a nets session than a game

Kind Regards
Peter Hems

You are the classic 'net player' which usually means your mental approach needs some serious work. If you are prepared to put in the time and effort I recommend my course called How to use mental training to boost your game. It teaches you how to be as confident in the middle as you are in the nets.

Do you beleive in getting the batsmen out of his mindset if your a bowler. e.g follow through and just say something (not a full on sledge) but maybe (maybe try hitting the ball and stare at them) just to scare them and stop them from being their best. what do you think?

Anything that upsets a batter and is withing the Laws and Spirit of the game is OK by me.

HI David, Just flicking through your fascinating site as I do whenever I get a few spare moments. One of the things I stress to all our players both junior and senior is the importance of playing within their limitations. We decide between the player and myself what those parameters are i.e. strengths and weaknesses and discuss "playing the pecentages". Most players manage on 2(3 tops) scoring shots plus the bread & butter shots (for picking up singles).Play to your limitations and don`t try to be too expansive, as so many club players do . This basic principle allows the batsman to achieve control and therefore to be confident -- half the battle when out in the middle.

Better bowlers will of course try to wrest the initiative back away from the batsmen by not bowling to those strengths and trying to pick out potential weakneesses. Don`t you just love to watch a good contest between bat and ball?
Same principle applies to your bowlers. Don`t try to bowl 6 different deliveries an over. Keep it simple - stock delivery with an occasional alternative. This is important from the point of applying pressure. Not every ball can be a wicket taking delivery but by building up the pressure on the batsman that keeps the bowler in controland normally results in success i.e that all important wicket.
Cricket is a great game for tactics.

well i am playing cricket 4 last 4 5 years and i am balling quick with full rythem in nets work hard in training but when it comes to matches i try to avoid them like my legs start shaking and i wont be able to ball as quick and as rythemic as in nets like i ball 40 percent of my actual ability to ball. as i am a fast baller and you know how it feels when u train so much like ball 7 8 overs daily with 36 yards run ups and gym etc it really hurts inshort my confidence level is too low like its in negative and its effecting my career alot

Waqas, often when bowlers are struggling with form ,confidence dips , they start to try too hard, becoming tense and losing the all-important rhythm. On your match day, try to find a few minutes away to yourself and switch off the building tension. Relax. When the game starts, again try to remain relaxedand when it`s your turn to bowl, concentrate initially on a smooth run up ....shorter steps to start with and gradually lengthen your stride as you approach the crease, hitting the point of delivery at your optimum pace. Only when you are confident that everything is in place and you are hitting the right areas, then gradually increase your pace. If things start to go wrong again, then simply go back to basics again.Keep things simple and don`t try too hard. Ask one of your fellow bowlers to watch your run up and action and if he spots something which might be a problem, discuss it with him and your coach and work it out at your next practice session.Keep your confidence, remain positive, be in control. enjoy your game.

thanks alot for your kind suggestion but i do try all of these things but the problem is not like i am not in rythm or out of form as far as nets are concern my fellow mates and even my coaches say that i can play even for my country if i ball 90 percent of my practise stuff but in matches i do take too much tension like you can call it performance fobia i am tryin to hard for it and honestly speakin i was not expecting your reply over my problem but i am very very thankful to you and glad that its not like any other site i hope with GOD and your helps i will be able to over come this problem will concern you all the time after every match hopefully you wont get tired or anything regards

oh! fair enough then!

Can the relaxing for 20min part include say sitting on a bus (i catch a bus to school everyday), often i day dream about cricket and my past successes eg. hitting a six or taking a wicket.

That could work well.