Mental Toughness

If you believe you have the power to succeed, to thrive in difficult circumstances and have the characteristics and traits that promote survival, perhaps you have, and as soon as you realise that 80% of your performance is in the mind, you will start to become great!

Of course, technique is important and mental strength is no compensation for lack of skill, but you stand there facing another player who has devoted as much time, effort… and yes, blood, sweat and tears, dedicated to their technical education as you. Is this stale mate or High Noon? Which one of you will overcome?

I can assure you it will be the one who believes they can. The one whose mental toughness will help them to stand and Fight; to give their all and not take the easier option of Flight; to let whatever happens, happen because, after all, “…we are equally matched it could go either way” or take Fright; freeze and fall to pieces.

When you choose to Fight, you dig deep to find that ‘something’ within you, that ‘something’ that will give you the edge by boosting your own ability and performance at the same time as intimidating your opponent’s. That ‘something’ is Mental Toughness and it will ensure consistent peak performance.

So what is mental toughness? I see it as a combination of self confidence, self esteem, self belief, concentration, motivation, emotional control and increasing commitment.

The big question, however, is whether mental toughness can be trained. I totally believe it can especially with all the psychological strategies and tools at hand. Coaches spend so much time working on technique and introducing fitness but, more often than not, psychological training is ignored anywhere other than in elite training. Any sportsperson serious about their sport, with dreams of success would never leave their skills and fitness to chance so why ignore mental toughness?

Actually, fitness is vitally important to mental toughness, especially in cricket. The average match takes so long that players can easily fatigue if they are not on top physical form; placing a huge strain on concentration. The Captain also plays a role in this instance, providing direction and keeping motivation high but mental toughness is all about being self contained; motivating oneself. Fatigue also tends to disrupt a player’s ability to focus and even a momentary loss can affect their mental reaction.

Imagery

One of the most powerful techniques to develop mental toughness is Imagery, where you can rehearse your performance in your mind, like a dream. There are three methods:

  1. Kinaesthesis; where you feel the performance internally.
  2. Visual Internal Imagery; where you see the performance from a first person perspective.
  3. Visual External Imagery; where you see the performance from a third person perspective.

Go with your own preference to begin with; the method you are more comfortable with. After some practise you will probably be able to use all three at once, creating a complete experience.

Self Hypnosis

Mastering the art of self hypnosis, allowing yourself to recline into an induced condition of heightened awareness and relaxation, can be hugely beneficial to imagery. It can be learned within a few sessions quite easily. Find a quiet place, real or imagined, for 5 - 10 minutes, twice a day to achieve lasting benefits. Breathe slowly and deeply and allow the tension to leave your muscles as you exhale. Of course, the more you practice self hypnosis, the easier and better it becomes.

When you are totally relaxed, you can give yourself all the positive and beneficial suggestions you need, building on all the elements of mental toughness to reduce nervousness and increase concentration, moving effortlessly into imagery.

A good way to start developing your skills is through recreating the image of an expert in your field and then to imagine yourself as that performer in full flow. Go with that flow for a couple of moments and slowly increase the intensity of the experience through progressively adding each of the senses. You are [insert name of your batting idol] standing at the crease, you are just about to hit your first century… hear the crowd… see the bowler getting ready… feel the backswing… smell the sweat on a hot, Summer’s afternoon… taste the sweet success floating in the air.
When you begin to perform in ‘the zone’ for real, try to take a snapshot of all of the mental aspects. This will help you to recreate that optimal mindset in the future. Perhaps you could use a voice recorder immediately afterwards to record everything that you sensed and analyse them all, what you heard, saw, felt, smelt and tasted at the time. Also take note of the voices inside your head and the impact they had on your performance. The following poem should help; if anybody knows the author, please let me know.

About the author

Liz Ward is a Strength and Conditioning Practitioner operating in and around Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk with a mission to change the way cricketers train for the sport; introducing biomechanics, fitness, psychology and nutrition.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost;
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in a state of mind.
If you think you are beaten, you are:
If you think you dare not, you won’t
If you like to win, but don’t think you can
It’s almost certain you won’t.
For many a game is lost,
Ere even a play is run,
And many a coward fails
Ere even his work begun.
Think big and your deeds will grow,
Think small and you’ll fall behind;
Think that you CAN and you WILL;
It’s all in a state of mind.
If you think you are out-classed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise;
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the fellow who thinks he can.



 

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