One of the biggest problems faced by cricketers is the nerves before playing. But what if I told you worrying in the right way is perfect for getting you through a tough game?
We all worry, and that worry is usually fearing the worst. Everyone has had the moment where they wonder if they will get out first ball. It's usually around the time you are in next. It's uncomfortable and it makes you nervy at the crease, stopping you play your natural game.
So, switch the worry to focus on what you can do instead.
You can still worry, it's just you can make it productive instead of being filled with panic.
Imagine the worst
Before the game, take your worry to it's most logical conclusion. Ask yourself, what's the worst that could realistically happen?
- You get a brilliant ball first up and get out.
- You get tied down in a run chase and slow the rate to make it hard for your team mates.
- You play a stupid shot and get out at a key moment.
- You bowl a series of bad balls.
- You drop their best batsman on nought.
I'm sure you can come up with plenty of things that you have done before or have seen others do. The point is, make that list as long as you want. Get every worry named and shamed.
Make a plan
With your list of problems in front of you, take a few minutes to work out how to solve them.
- Tied down in a run chase: Rotate the strike and hit the gaps.
- Play a stupid shot: Stay mentally focused on your scoring areas.
- Bowl a bad ball: Find a way to get into rhythm more quickly.
- Drop a catch: Take more catches in practice.
You might have different solutions to the problems, the details are less important than having a plan for those moments where things go as badly as you can possibly imagine.
Have a mental net
Here's the clever part. You don't need to practice "in real life" to calm your nerves.
That means you can do this mental netting at any time; while you wait to bat, at the top of your mark, or even between balls when you are standing waiting for the catch.
Picture the worst case, then picture your ideal response. Imagine you do drop that catch. What is your response? You know you are able to put the error behind you and focus on taking the next catch. You are able to stay positive despite the error, and know you can make up for it in another way.
Do this in as much detail as you can. Picture the feelings you feel when things go well, even in the worst case. Smell the grass, feel the sun on your face, imagine the tingle on the back of your spine and the slap of a high five from your team mates when you succeed.
The more real you can make your mental net feel, the more you realise how ready you are. By the time it actually happens, it will be second nature to feel confident you have covered every base.
Once you have the worst case under control, you can start to imagine what happens when things go perfectly.
As you wait to bat, imagine your game plan in perfection. You know what you can do and how to go about doing it. You hit every gap and never give a chance. The opposition have no reply and you feel like you will never get out.
This is very different from more general affirmations. You are not blindly telling yourself you are a beautiful snowflake. You are making a plan and picturing how that feels to you when it's executed to perfection. It's you telling yourself that you are ready, and that you know you are ready.
Naturally, all this mental practice will only convince you if you have practised in real nets too. If you have never tried your plan at practice, you will never convince yourself just by thinking about it. That said, if you go through the process built on a foundation of proof and truth you can turn your fears about failing into robust plans for success.
And that can only get you better at your game.