Most of us know what do do with a technical issue: Get in the nets and fix it. We also know that to get fit you train with cricket specific fitness work. But what if you want to improve the mental side of your game?
Don't worry, it's more simple than it seems and will result in dramatic improvements in your game, because - as you know - cricket is at least 80% mental.
The science of sport psychology has been working on this for decades, and have come up with a flexible, simple way to work on your mental game: The 4C Method.
How 4C makes you a cricketer
The eponymous letter are the 4 traits of mental strength:
Image for a moment that you had trained up all these elements to a peak. How good a cricketer would you be?
Even with glaring technical flaws (Graeme Smith), or a lack of fitness (Inzamam-ul-Haq) or a perceived limited talent (Paul Collingwood) you can still be an incredible player with a solid mental game.
While technique is vital to success, if you are not also training your 4C's you are leaving the opportunity to become a cricketer on the table.
So plan our mental training routine the same as you would plan your net sessions and gym work.
Then get to work.
Improve cricket concentration
Although cricket is a long game, it requires short bursts of concentration between large periods of no action. Distractions are plentiful and anything that takes you out of the moment is a potential failure as a batsman or bowler.
The first step to making an improvement is to recognise 2 things:
- What situations are you most focused?
- What situations are you most distracted?
This is highly personal. In my case I am rarely distracted while batting. I am encouraged by sledging and ignore any comments about my technique. However, I am least focused after I make a mistake while wicketkeeping. In other words, I am tough on myself.
I know this so I spend a lot of time working on self-talk that is about forgetting mistakes while keeping.
However, perhaps you find your mind drifting more randomly, or when you are tired. In which case you need to focus your work around triggers and improving your fitness (which has been proven to improve concentration levels).
Spend 20 minutes a day working on your own methods of handling distractions and you will get a concentration boost.
Plus, when you work on the other C's, you will see a crossover effect to concentration. Which brings me onto the next step...
Develop robust confidence in your game
As has been discussed before here, confidence is like a bank account. The more deposits you make the bigger your balance. In that way, it's far more simple than concentration. You just need to keep topping up your balance.
You do that with:
A solid technique goes a long way to building confidence. If you know your action has all the indicators of speed, you know you are bowling as fast as you are able and you know you are going take more wickets.
But more than technique, you also need a database of experience. Some refer to this as the 10,000 hour rule.
If you have faced a lot of medium paced bowling in the middle overs of one day cricket you have more ability and confidence than against really fast bowlers opening the batting. So build up your experience in a wide variety of situations too, don't just hit lots of bowling machine balls in the nets to develop technical perfection.
You can combine this practical work with regular reflection: An often overlooked element of cricket performance.
We are all told to play in the moment. That's vital and true. But when the moment is over we also benefit from spending time thinking about it. Psychologists call this imagery. It's really just positive thinking.
Spend time after matches thinking about what went well. Spend time before matches planning how it could go perfectly. When you spend time thinking about all the good things you are doing, you believe in yourself.
How much time you need to spend on this kind of reflection depends on how tough you are on yourself and how many negative thoughts you have about your game. Personally, a few years ago I needed to spend a lot of time on being positive about myself and for a few years would spend 20 minutes a day in personal reflection. Nowadays I can get the same benefits from 5 minutes before a match and 5 minutes after training.
Maintaining steely control on the field
"Control" is a relative term in cricket. The fast bowler opening the bowling should be fired up. The batter at the other end should be ice cool.
But although the ideal control level varies between players and personalities, there is still the opportunity to be too laid back, or too fired up. It's your job to work out where your best level of control lies, and then get there.
Recognising your stress levels is not always easy in the heat of battle. That's why you need regular practice that puts you under different pressures. You learn how you feel and react in those moments.
Once you know where you are you can learn to adjust your level of control:
Most cricketers tend to become too fired-up and lose control. If that's you, you need to be able to relax and the link above gives you a method for controlling those moments where the red mist becomes unhelpful.
On the other hand, sometimes you need to be fired up as a team. Especially bowlers. That's when a bit of calculated "motivation" goes a long way.
Stick to your plan with commitment
Finally, the most important element of your mental game, we get to "commitment". It's so important because all the plans in the world are useless if you don't stick to them.
But sticking to a plan is hard. Life gets in the way. energy levels are different on a rainy Sunday afternoon while you are planning things in detail compared to a busy Wednesday evening when you have been working hard all day.
The secret of commitment varies between people as some are naturally better than others, but everyone can benefit from:
Planning and executing those plans is a skill that takes time to build. Many books in the management field have been written on it.
The very short summary is:
- Start with where you want to end
- Decide the next physical steps to get there. Ensure they are realistic and achievable actions.
- Put them into a trusted system (a to do list, a calendar)
- Do it!
I would strongly recommend the primer here, but also to pick up a copy of "Getting Things Done" by David Allen for a system that is frighteningly effective for planning and doing.
Get your system right and your commitment follows on naturally.
In fact, that also applies to your routine. While this is very personal and so there is no way I can give you all the variables about routines, I can tell you that successful cricketers all have routines that work for them.
John Hurley wrote a nice series of articles that go over how to assess and establish a routine that works for you. Here is part one.
For a system that incorporates all these 4C methods, get the online coaching course "How to Use Mental Training to Boost Your Game" on PitchVision Academy. The content, worksheets and information is available instantly online.