The Psych Club experiment is over: eight months after nervously pulling up a chair opposite one of the game’s leading sports psychologists, our five club cricket guinea pigs reflect on a season where the main area of their game they worked on was the space between the ears. Did it work?
Writer and psychotherapist in training, allrounder Nick plays for Walton-on-Trent CC in Division 2 of the Derbyshire County League.
Sitting down to write my final diary entry of the Psych Club experiment, I happen upon this quote: “No man is free who is not master of himself”. It seems appropriate that the quote comes from Epictetus, the noted Stoic. I have to report that unfortunately, Stoicism has become less a philosophy and more of a necessity this season.
Statistically, the season has not been a success. I have not met my pre-season goals and I have played with largely forgettable mediocrity in a team that inexplicably struggled to even reach mediocrity sometimes. We were relegated.
Behind my unremarkable statistics, however, has been fervent action between the ears. And while sometimes I’ve thought, “You’re 43, haven’t scored many runs for years, your eyes are going, not to mention your body”, I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m not done yet. No, it hasn’t happened this year but my sessions with Amanda feel less like ‘job done’ and more like job only just begun. This year has been the start of a process, an investment that I hope will pay dividends for the next half-a-dozen seasons.
My main frustration this year is that I have not been able to squeeze the very most out of this one-off experience. My 2016 pre-season and season’s practice time combined has amounted to precisely 40 minutes. It’s impossible to turn up once a week or once a fortnight, out of form and having had no practice, and expect to start creaming the ball to all parts. So in the end, I feel I was handed a golden ticket but didn’t really get through the gates. At the same time, I watched my four colleagues enter the chocolate factory and feast on the riches within. And as the months ticked by, I waited and waited for my epiphany so I could write about it triumphantly with a picture of me next to a scoreboard. It never came of course.
Since my last diary entry I have in fact made my highest score of the season – a heady 39 – and during that innings I felt enough of the old me to justify my optimism for the next few seasons. I also observed enough about my psychological nuances during that innings to convince me to continue this exploration of how psychology could help my game. It would appear that watching a ball and hitting it is not the hard thing; it’s ditching all the fear, expectation, anticipation, over-thinking and so on that comes with it. When I can get to the point that each delivery is a new event and it matters not who bowls it, what happened the ball before, how many runs I got last week etc, then I’ll be happy.
In the meantime, I call upon my inexhaustible bank of quotes for every occasion, with one to carry me through until next year: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour”. Thank you Truman Capote, that’ll do for me.
Inns: 13 Runs: 138 Average: 12.55
Overs: 82 Runs: 473 Wickets: 17 Average 27.82
From May 2016: “This should work. I should be able to average 30 with the bat and I’d settle for wickets at 20 again.”
Author and journalist Jon plays for the Authors XI. He is a batsman.
With the elastic nature of cricketing time, our experiment feels like it was over almost before it had begun. If I think back to the first game of the season, played on a borderline-deadly artificial track on a numbing April afternoon during which the deep fielders on an adjacent ground simply gave it best and put their coats on over their cricket gear, it seems a long time ago, and yet the season has blown past with its familiar whirr.
The point of giving some erratically skilled amateurs the benefit of the kind of Rolls Royce mind-coaching provided by Amanda was to see if it has any application in the amateur game. I think it does. I wrote at the start of the season that the only real improvements I could make in my game after all this time were mental, and I think I made some. We were asked to set goals, and one of mine was to score 500 runs in the season. I got past that target by 200, partly because I played more games than I thought, but also because Amanda’s sessions gave me a mental routine that led to consistency, and broke the stupid superstitions that innings were somehow supernaturally connected: a few good ones would inevitably lead to some bad. I have to confess, pathetically, that the knowledge our results would be published in the magazine and online also added pressure, and made me more determined.
However, I had another bell-weather. I play in the same team as Tom Holland. Tom is a brilliant man who, as a cricketer, hid his real fears and view of his abilities behind a kind of mock-heroic, funny persona, both to his teammates and on social media. Amanda made Tom take his cricket seriously, and he became tougher and more consistent.
So much of the game is about resilience, because so much of it is about failure too. The best of batsmen fail, statistically, to make their average in two out of three innings. The greatest bowlers average a wicket every 60 deliveries. We’re so often defeated by the game that mental strength is one of the things that can keep bringing us back.
Inns: 24 Runs: 708 Average: 39.33
From May 2016: “If I can get my mind in a better place I will score more runs. I’d like to make 500 runs in the season.”
Sophie Le Marchand
Keeper-batsman Sophie has played for Worcestershire and Somerset, England Women’s under 21s and England Women’s Development Squad. She now plays for Bath CC having retired from county cricket.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”: my cricket season in a nutshell. From averaging 99 with the bat, smashing my target of 40-plus, to keeping like a drain and losing the league, this really has been a season of light and of darkness. Above all else, however, it has been a season of enlightenment and I am very grateful to Amanda for helping me to understand the conditions that I need to reproduce in order to be at my best.
On so many occasions this season, batting has been a bizarre, but wonderful, out-of-body experience. It has felt like it’s not really me out there in the middle, but an imposter. Essentially I’ve learnt that for me to be successful with the bat I must clear my head totally of anything technical and focus on the personal. I need to hit warrior mode and make myself believe I’m in a duel with the bowler, visualise and back myself to hit the more risky shots and feel confident in my relationship with my batting partner. If I play from memory with intent and passion, I know I’m capable of scoring big.
My mindset for keeping needs to be the polar opposite. The more control I have over the technical aspects of my game, the more confident and ready I feel. To be honest, I certainly need to do more training off the field for my keeping, but I also need to find small pockets of focused time on match days to prepare myself better. Working hard to find a spare 10 minutes to have an energy bar and do some high intensity one-on-one footwork drills can help me enormously. I definitely didn’t do enough practice or intense, focused match-day preparation this summer and it really showed.
The experiment with Amanda this season has really challenged me, but it has been an enjoyable and valuable experience. Next season the challenge will be to use my enhanced psychological wisdom to be the best version of myself as a batter and as a wicketkeeper. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but if I revel in the fight and just enjoy the game, I’ll probably be OK.
Inns: 7 Runs: 495 Average: 99.00
4 stumpings, 1 catch
From May 2016: “This experiment will not work for me. The more I analyse, the worse I get. I don’t believe in any kind of psychobabble. I would like to see my batting average rise above 40.”
Historian and broadcaster Tom is a bowler for the Authors XI.
Mind over body – it really does work. The moment that definitively convinced me of this came in the first of two matches we were playing in an early September weekend. Admittedly, there were extenuating circumstances. The pitch was prone to eccentricities. I had a violent head-wind behind me. Rain was imminent. Nevertheless, the fact remains that for – oh, the first time in almost 20 years – I deliberately bowled a bouncer, the batsman went to hook it, and he gloved it behind to the keeper. Pace and bounce. For one brief glorious moment, I felt like Malcolm Marshall.
Only someone who’s been marinaded in a sense of decline for as long as I have can know how incredibly happy it makes me feel to know that I have something of my old bowling back. It is as though I have drunk from the Fountain of Youth. Happiness feeds self-confidence; and self-confidence feeds happiness. In the second of the matches we played over the early September weekend, we let slip a match we really should have won. Our opponents somehow managed to smash 100 runs off 10 overs to chase down our score. I came on to bowl two of those – and even a few months ago, would have been utterly defeatist, convinced that I could do nothing to stem the onslaught. But not this time. I was certain I was going to get a wicket – and very, very nearly did. Nor did I get collared. I genuinely felt I was the best bowler on the pitch. When did I last feel that in a cricket match? An eternity ago.
All of which is to say that my sessions with Amanda have worked better than I would ever have imagined they would when I began them in the spring. Back then, I regarded sports psychology as something akin to astrology – OK for Californians, perhaps, but nothing that I would ever take seriously. Now – although I’m still not ready to start checking out the stars – I have no doubt that sessions with a sports psychologist can radically improve the performance of even the most useless cricketer. Not, however, that I am any longer content to define myself as useless – because if there is one thing Amanda has taught me, it is that self-deprecation is the absolute bane of effective performance. It is a mould, a manifestation of self-doubt that spreads inexorably through the thoughts. The best thing I did this summer was to wipe it clean, to refuse absolutely to have any truck with it. In a sense, everything else followed from that.
I am confident that I will be able to sustain the resurrection of my form into next season. Just as no one can hope to continue bowling into their forties without regular physical exercise, so are there mental exercises that I can perform, and know that they will help to get me ready for next spring. I am already looking forward to the new season more than I have for years. Ultimately, this is why I am so grateful to Amanda. She has given back to me something that I now realise I was in danger of losing for good: a sense, when it came to playing cricket, of anticipation, of excitement, and of joy.
Overs: 81.5 Runs 392 Wickets: 17 Average 23.05
Tom has scored 7 runs including a four; he has taken a catch.
From May 2016: “ I suspect my age and inherent lack of ability will militate against any dramatic improvements. I’m wondering – for the first time – whether perhaps it is time to call it a day.”
AOC’s Ed plays at Fair Oak CC in Hampshire, Southern Premier League Division 3.
At the start of the season I said success would be an average over 35 and four scores of 50 or more. As it was my average was just over 30 and, notwithstanding quite a few 30s and 40s, I passed 50 only twice. Ultimately though, I’m happy enough with the season and come away with a much better understanding of how my mental and emotional state affects my batting.
Use of a sports psychologist isn’t a silver bullet; it’s still you out there, with the same physical limitations – and the mental challenges of the game remain. But at its best it can provide increased clarity, and with it greater confidence. Those of us involved in Psych Club this summer know we’ve been lucky and that, as the seasons roll on, we have a quiet advantage over other club cricketers.
Inns: 16 Runs: 456 Average: 30.40
From May 2016: “I’m slightly more on the sceptical side. I fear it complicating things just when I am starting to benefit from increased experience and understanding of my game. Success would be an average over 35.”
The expert’s view
Amanda Owens, our highly qualified and experienced sports psychologist, reflects on a season of working with our motley crew of club cricketers:
This has been a fascinating and – as far as I know – unique experiment. We have applied elite sports psychology know-how to a group of club cricketers over the course of a season to see if the principles of sports psych work as well for them as for elite performers.
I think it’s safe to say: it works.
While the process hasn’t been without its challenges, it’s fair to say that all the players have seen its positive effects, and some of them have been absolutely transformed. My pre-season expectation was for some improvement but some of the successes have far exceeded what I could ever have hoped for. Some, like Tom, have revolutionised their game, while for others, like Nick, the changes are just beginning and will play out in the longer term.
I’d like to thank the players for approaching the challenge with open minds (even the sceptics among them) and a real commitment to being brave and honest in their work with me and their reports. I hope AOC readers have enjoyed what is a privileged access into work that is often deeply personal and consequently highly confidential. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with each and every player, all of them unique and with their own set of challenges and goals.
Apart from ways to perform better and enjoy their cricket more, what I hope the players have also discovered is that the process we have been through doesn’t just apply to sport. It is a process of self-awareness and self-development that can help in all aspects of life. The other thing to note is that really, each of them has only just begun. This is just the beginning and I hope they will continue to apply the techniques they have learned next season and for the rest of their cricketing lives.