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You might be captain of your team, or not. Either way, you can still be a leader. This is the main theme of the week's articles. Take leadership seriously to get better!

Plus Mark Garaway starts his review of the year. Top reading as always.

Have great weekend,

David Hinchliffe

You Can’t Think Your Way to Mental Toughness

The more you think, the worse your cricket mental game becomes.


It’s easy to see mental toughness as something you can deal with when there is a problem: Feeling under pressure in a big moment? Learn to deal with pressure. Can’t play the short ball through fear? Work on your fight and remove the flight.

The reality is, thinking through these issues makes you try harder, clench up more and lose the instincts that made you good in the first place.

What’s happening?

More important, how do we cut this problem off?

It’s all about your brain.

Two cricket brains

Long ago, science realised we have two brains that fight for control.

One is based on instinct. It’s primal and protects us from the worst harms in life. It works fast. The other is intellectual and rational. It gives us higher functions like problem solving and works slowly.

Neither brain is better, just more or less useful at different times. If we are attacked, the primal brain goes into action to get us ready to fight or run away fast. If we are doing maths homework, the intellectual brain says “I’ll take it from here”.

In cricket, we need both too.

The instinct is there as we wait to bat, run in to bowl or set in the field. The intellect is there to work out how to chase down a score or set a field.

Intellect blocks instinct

The problem happens when the intellect tries to sort out the stupid instinct. There’s a problem to be solved and the intellect is the problem solver.

It tries to push instinct away because it knows best. It thinks whatever the instinct is doing is failing you so it’s time to get rational and start thinking through the problem.

Good idea?

Only if you have time. The intellectual brain is way too slow. It has to be to weigh up the options and possibilities. If you have ever said “stop, let me think about that”, you know how slow this brain feels compared to instinctive actions.

Think about when you are batting. If you try and think through everything you will start to think all kinds of thoughts, many of them very unhelpful. For example, trying to work out a technical flaw during an innings.

Even the best batsmen have that thought cross their mind after a play and miss or two.

And while you are having all these thoughts, ideas and assessments, your instinct has gone.

Power in not thinking

The answer - while being unintuitive - is to stop thinking.

You can’t stop thoughts of course, but you can stop worrying about them. Let your instinct do the work when you are out in the middle.

If you are a batsman or fielder, your focus is on the ball and your reaction to it.

If you are a bowler, your focus is on hitting your area.

These are not conscious thoughts. These are an absence of conscious thoughts. You are simply playing, acting and reacting. Seeing and moving. The same way you would catch a tennis ball if someone lobbed it to you. You don’t have to think about it, you just do it.

In the book The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallway talks about letting the serve “serve itself” buy focusing on hitting the shot. This is just as true for cricket. You know how to play, you just have to let your instinct do the work by keeping your rational brain quiet.

The truth about toughness

All this means the truth about mental toughness and handling pressure is not some quick trick you can apply.

The truth is you have all the tools at your disposal you need in your instinctive brain. It’s your rational brain that feels pressure or worries your technique is not up to the short ball.

Tell it to shut up.

There are times you will need it - tactical decisions, or working on some technique for example - so keep it close by. Yet, when you are in the heat of battle and you require concentration, focus, calmness and relaxed confidence, reach for instinct instead.

Do this well and people will start asking how you got so mentally tough.

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A Team of Captains: How to Use Leadership to Produce Winning Results

There’s only one captain in a team, but everyone can be a leader.


Good teams have a certain feeling of togetherness and spirit. I’m sure you have felt that when your team is doing well. I’m sure you also know when a culture is toxic and reducing your chances of success.

This culture doesn’t spring out of thin air. It’s created.

Great culture only arrives when you have great behaviours. Great behaviours are driven by leaders.

So it all comes back to your ability to lead. Whoever you are. No permission or captain's armband needed.

How to lead

You don’t have to set the field or make a big speech to lead. Leadership starts with simple things.

You can lead by example, putting in excellent performances on the field when others fail. Never giving up until the last ball. This extends to how much you train. It even extends to how you conduct yourself; being on time and behaving like a gentleman.

You can lead by serving your team mates. This is things like being always happy to help with throwdowns at practice, making sure others get help in times of need and being always available for a chat. Even a bit of coaching or video analysis.

These things might seem small but each time you show yourself as kind, reliable and calm in crunch moments you are building up that positive culture that leads to positive results.

Naturally, you have to be authentic. You can’t be someone you are not for long, but you can be the best, most helpful version of you that you can be. If that means being an “always late” person who manages to arrive bang on time instead, then you are building a better team. Just by setting the alarm clock 15 minutes earlier!

The point is, you get to choose.

You are a leader. Even if you don't have a label like coach or captain. You can help build a culture through your leadership.

That means you own your decisions. You control your space and that influences others. Take that power and use it.

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Use Planning Perfection to Quickly Boost Your Cricket

Imagine what your perfect cricketing day would be like.


From the moment you wake to the time you close your eyes to sleep, everything goes completely to plan. What would it look like?

It's an exercise that not only feels good but has practical applications.

You are using what Tim Ferris calls 'dreamlining': the art of goal setting to reach your dreams. Research has shown that good goal setting dramatically increases your chances of achieving sporting success.

And that starts with imagining your perfect day.

Think about the house you live in, the types of decor, the food you eat, what you drink, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, how you prepare for the match, the type of game you have against what kind of opposition and what happens after play? In short, every tiny detail.

Write it all down somewhere you can refer back to it.

Psychologist James Hamilton has used this method too. Ferris makes the dream include all the things you want to do no matter how unusual or one off they are. James builds on this technique by making the day as regular as possible.

It's worth the effort

Most people can quickly come up with a list of hopes and dreams quite quickly but many still feel daunted by the task. They put it off. The dreams stay as dreams.

It's easy to understand: Goal setting is about putting your life down on paper.

What if you miss something out?

What if you change your mind? What if you fail in reaching those goals?

What if others consider your dreams as silly or impossible?

What if you can't afford it?

What if something stops you?

That's a lot of worries. It's no wonder people don't bother with goal setting. You can do it you take these principles on board:

  • Failure is essential. The route to success is not a smooth path. It's a winding road with ups and downs along the way. You will fail at times. You will lose track and let yourself and others down. Allowing yourself to fail in pursuit of your goal is important because, as James Hamilton says, that this is what humans do, even successful ones.
  • Action trumps inaction. Goal setting is partly about finding out what real life actions you need to take to achieve. Research into successful businessmen has shown they all are driven by taking action on their plans, even if it is the wrong action. It's more important to be doing something than nothing, to be moving forward than frozen by fear of failure.
  • There is never the perfect time to start. It's natural to imagine that the perfect plan needs the perfect start. In fact, the opposite is true. It's essential to start when conditions are not right because conditions are never right. There will be times when things are easier, but you can never know when this will be.
  • You can change your mind. If you do start and things go wrong, you can start again any time you like. You can even drop the entire goal and change to something else if you want. It's hard to identify what you really want and you might make a mistake. Accept that will happen and start again, or start something else. You can always come back another time.
  • Life is not perfect. In real life, even your perfect day will include plenty of annoyances. You can't control traffic jams, other people's behaviour or stuff breaking which will always happen, sometimes at exactly the wrong moment. It's not a sign of failure; it's something everyone goes through. A goal is only worthwhile if it is worth having in spite of these things.
  • Your success is your responsibility. Despite all the previous caveats, one thing still remains true: It's your responsibility to reach your goals. You will mess up, get it wrong, face negative people and suffer roadblocks but you still need to act. It's easy to fall into the trap of blaming others. As consultant Brain Tracy says, focus on what you can do now.

SO take that time and start the glorious mess that is planning.

What next?

When you have your perfect day on paper, what happens next?

You need to find out what the practical steps are to making your dreams a reality, and there is a simple process to doing this.

James Hamilton suggests starting by taking a look at your day and sorting out each goal into the following:

  1. Have now, or can get now.
  2. Able to achieve or get if you put your mind to it.
  3. Able to achieve or get with a lot of planning and application.
  4. Requires a change in the behaviour or attitudes of other people or is impossible.

The first two categories can be the hardest to identify. We tend to assume that our ideal day will be utterly unlike what we do now. We tend to rule out the things that satisfy us now as having any part in some kind of glowing future.

For example, if you want to become a more accurate bowler all you need is get down the nets and start tracking. You can get close to your ideal without huge effort once you learn how to identify what parts of your perfect day fit into those first two categories.

Category three is more like Tim Ferris' dreamlining: The big stuff like travel and career aims taking months or years to achieve. You might be looking to make it as a professional cricketer, or take more wickets in the league than anyone else.

Category four is trickier. Be careful of anything that is dependent on the attitudes and behaviours of other people.

You are not fully in control of how your family, friends, team mates, coaches or colleagues treat you. All you are in control of is how you treat yourself. Any goal you have that needs you to hold other people’s strings is impossible for you to achieve alone.

Time to get things done

Having removed anything you can't control, it's time to get everything else done. This is where the dreaming stops and you start to outline the real, practical and simple steps.

Far and away the best way of doing this can be found in a book called 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) by Management Consultant David Allen.

It's a well tried and proven system in the business world to improve productivity, but it can work just as well for you to make yourself better at cricket. A task is still a task if it is 'go to nets' or 'attend meeting'.

The strength of GTD is that it gives you a place to hold all the practical actions that is not in your brain. Trying to remember everything is bound to failure. How often, for example, do you remember to buy toilet roll when you are standing in the toilet roll aisle in the supermarket?

 As Allen say, we are great at having ideas but awful at holding them in our brains. So use a system instead.

So pick up your perfect day listed in categories, grab a fresh sheet of paper and do the following:

  1. Start with anything that take one simple step (make a phone call, look at a website, cook breakfast) and can be done right now. Do it immediately.
  2. Then take anything that is left that take one simple, clear next action (buy bat, go to nets) and put it in a list. If it's a time based action (like a meeting or a game) put it in some kind of calendar to remind you when it is. If you could do it any time write it on a list called "Next Actions". If you have more than 20 or so next actions you will probably want to subdivide the list into contexts like "Calls" for phone calls you need to make or "Errands" for shopping you need to do (put "buy toilet roll" on the errands list and refer to it when you are in the supermarket).
  3. You should be left with the things that will take a few more steps to complete. Allen calls these Projects. An example of a small project would be "Get car fixed" as above. A bigger, longer project might be to cement a place in the First XI. As a general rule, these projects should not take longer than a year to complete.
  4. From this list of projects you now need to identify the next physical action for each one. Add these actions to your Next Action list or calendar from before. If you have more than 20 next actions, subdivide them by context again.
  5. You may find at this point there are some actions you have that rely on someone else to do something. If so, create a list called "Waiting For" and put all those actions in that list.
  6. There may be some things you would like to do one day but don't want to commit to starting just yet. Put these in a list called "Someday/Maybe" and forget about them for now (you can always check back on that list later).

Now you should be armed with the following:

  • A calendar with time based items on it
  • A list of projects
  • A list of next actions (sorted by context if necessary)

You can now start completing those actions and projects, safe in the knowledge you are moving, action by action, towards your perfect day goals.

The GTD system is a bit more involved that what I have outlined here. If you are serious about reaching your goals in cricket (or in work, or the rest of life) I strongly suggest you buy the book. For a quick overview of GTD in general, click here.

This may seem like a lot of effort for often distant reward. That's because it is. But good planning combined with flexible execution of those plans will make your chances of becoming a cricketer all the better.

Let us know how you go.

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Cricket Show S8 Episode 48: Read the Notes

Sam Lavery returns to join David Hinchliffe and Mark Garaway in this demob happy cricket show. The team discuss the use of gizmos and gadgets, hip shoulder separation and regaining lost motivation.

Remember to follow PitchVision Academy for free bonus content.

Listen for the details.

My Cricket Review of 2017

Christmas is well appreciated in the Garaway Household. As with many families, its a time for getting everyone together, for over-indulgence and for reflection on the hectic 12 months that we have had in 2017.


About PitchVision Academy

Welcome to this week's guide to playing and coaching better cricket.

I'm David Hinchliffe and I'm Director of the PitchVision Academy team. With this newsletter you are benefitting directly from over 25 Academy coaches. Our skills include international runs and wickets, first-class coaching, cutting-edge research and real-life playing experience.


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Issue: 492
Date: 2017-12-22