Pressure is the most overused and misunderstood word in cricket.
The word is used to describe four different things:
- How difficult something is.
- How important we perceive something to be.
- The potential consequences of succeeding or failing.
- The feeling of being under pressure.
There is also an assumption that one, two or three can create four.
An outside-in misunderstanding
The truth is that nothing outside of us can make us feel anything.
There is no malign force picking up a feeling of pressure and putting it into our heads or bodies. However, it often looks this way.
It looks like the outside world can create a feeling in our minds. In reality, it is nothing more than a compelling illusion.
There are club cricketers who feel high levels of pressure and international players who feel very little.
The opposite is true as well.
It is not the level we are playing at that creates the feeling of pressure.
As a game situation becomes more difficult it seems as if the pressure is increasing. When we look back, we might see that our perception of the game situation changed: Whether we are feeling “under pressure” looks like it came from the difficult situation.
The importance of the game
Believing that one thing is more important than another is an unconscious process of taking one thought and placing it above another in a hierarchy.
Some players, naturally and intuitively, treat every game the same.
Others, play some games as if they don’t matter at all.
Others as if they are life and death.
Neither is right or wrong, but this shows we miss the role of thought in deciding what matters and what doesn’t.
The consequences of the result
We believe that an outcome or a result can make us happy or fulfilled and so we feel pressure to succeed to get the feeling.
Consequences are inherently neutral, without meaning.
We make up what they mean and live them out as if they were true.
Sometimes the thing we least want – consequences like getting dropped, failing, having to move clubs – are the things which, in hindsight, were helpful.
How pressure really works
Thought and feeling (emotion) are two sides of the same coin.
If you are feeling under pressure – regardless of how difficult the opponent, how important the match, or the consequences of the result – those feelings are the result of your thinking.
This is why a person might experience road rage when getting stuck in traffic one day, while the next day the same thing happens and they aren’t bothered by it.
It’s always the thought in the moment that determines our experience.
Thought ebbs and flows for everyone.
The ups and downs of our moods are beyond our control (even the most relaxed person feels under pressure sometimes). In a low state of mind or mood, everything we do looks like its creating pressure and we feel limited.
But when our heads clear, the exact same situation looks completely different; perhaps like a challenge, opportunity or a freedom to express ourselves no matter where we are.
This clearing, and subsequent return to clutter or a low mood, is part of the mind’s natural design. The mind is built to self-correct, just as the skin will heal cuts and the digestive system will break down food.
The only thing that can prolong a low state of mind – a feeling of pressure – is more thinking.
The more we believe something outside of us can create how we feel, the more we will think and analyse when we experience the feeling of pressure. We prolong the feeling and it begins to feel more and more debilitating.
Pressure is an illusory and transient sensation passing through us.
We attach meaning to it, and create stories in our minds about why we’re experiencing it.
We forget that we’re human and we all think.
All feelings serve a purpose. Without the experience of feeling pressure, we would have no appreciation of what it is to feel free. We can take the feeling of pressure very seriously, or we are equally capable of not taking it seriously at all, and seeing it for what it is: thought in the moment.
Performing under pressure
The most important thing for cricketers to realise is that you are capable of performing whether you are feeling pressure or not.
Our capacity to perform is independent of how we are feeling or what we are thinking. It is driven by a deeper intelligence.
Consider how children teach themselves to walk with no conscious awareness of what they are thinking, feeling or even why they are doing it!
When you feel under pressure, it might feel harder but you are still the same player, equally able to hit or catch a ball, run, jump and express yourself.
When you are feeling free, you are still that same player but it will all feel easier.
Either way, how good you feel does not equate to results.
You can feel on top of the world and edge behind first ball or you can feel low and battle our way into an innings that ends up winning the game.
Seeing that you are always able to achieve is what allows you to perform however you feel.
Implications for cricket
- See it for yourself. See that whilst it looks like our experience is created from the outside-in, every feeling and perception actually occurs from the inside-out, from thought in the moment. The more we see it for ourselves, the less we are bothered by pressure, critical moments in the game and the more common sense solutions we come up with for ourselves.
- Explain it. Help yourself and others to see that pressure is caused by thinking and thinking is OK. If you add more thinking to it, you’ll feel more pressure but will still be OK. You can always perform no matter how they are feeling.
- Educate parents. Parents putting pressure on kids is a big issue. As the players themselves see that pressure only occurs from the inside-out – their thinking in the moment – they become more and more resilient to outside circumstances, including unhelpful things parents (and coaches) say. The benefits will be seen in each child’s long-term development and engagement in the game and will see them having more fun and making, and learning from their own decisions.
About the author
Rich Hudson is Buckinghamshire Cricket’s Head Coach for the Boys’ and Girls’ Player Pathways. He is Sports Psychology Coach on the Northants County Cricket Club Academy programme. He is an ECB Level 4 Coach, has a postgraduate diploma in Elite Cricket Coaching and has a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology. You can contact Rich on Twitter.
You can find more information about upcoming Sports Principles workshops here.