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Getting Your Head Right: The Psychology Of Performance

Since retirement the former Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and England ODI player Jeremy Snape has become an in-demand performance coach, working with South Africa and the Rajasthan Royals amongst others. In his first column of the summer, he considers how psychology directly impacts on performance. 

Even when I was a player, the psychological side of cricket always fascinated me. But back then, especially in the early days of my career, the ice bath was only ever used to keep the post-match beers cold! In recent years however, the context of professional sport has changed dramatically. The psychology of performance has become one of the central aspects of modern sport and I firmly believe it will provide individuals and teams with a real competitive advantage in the next decade.

While there is an increasing focus on the psychology of cricket, I wouldn’t say it is revolutionising the sport. In my role working alongside elite cricketers, one of the psychological interventions that I bring to teams is to sit down together after a match for an informal debrief, rather than just jumping on the team bus and heading home. These open discussions about performance help people to learn as fast as they can. When I was playing we’d sit in the pub after the match with the opposition and there would be an amazing transfer of knowledge. Ultimately, it’s still the same nowadays, it’s just the beers have been replaced by isotonic drinks!

When I was playing there weren’t many sports psychologists around and I think there’s been a big shift in top performers not only talking about the mental side of the game, but being proud to say they’ve embraced it. Clubs are more aware of the need for player support and research suggests that high-level players require high-level support. My style of support is to blend academic research with good old practical conversation and I see myself more as a translator than a psychologist. The biggest challenges in my career were concentration, motivation and the pressure to perform in certain environments and situations. I remember playing in front of 120,000 people in India and it was a new, terrifying experience for me. But I told myself it was still the same game that I knew and loved, and I still only had to bowl a ball 22 yards. The psychology of the situation was absolutely fascinating and challenging to me.

The beauty and power of sports psychology is being able to simplify things in a very complex and distracting world. I try to get the players to focus on things within their control, which they can engineer into having a positive impact on their game. Small things, like having simple routines they can refer to in moments of high pressure, are extremely valuable in building confidence and enhancing performance.

Ultimately, the real issue that I and other performance coaches face is making psychology link to performance. For me, it’s about winning, and learning as much as you can. You have to be honest and proactive in supporting people to ensure they can be the best at what they do. It’s important to set pathways regardless of the level you’re playing at, so that you’re learning as fast as you possibly can and you feel like you’re progressing. I’ve spoken to a lot of Olympians and they all have an insatiable desire to improve. The same kind of desire to get to the top applies to high-performing businesspeople who I work with. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur or professional, that desire to achieve, and be the best you possibly can be, should always be your mindset.

Jeremy is a director of Sporting Edge, delivering high performance coaching to professional sports teams and businesses. You can follow him on Twitter @thesportingedge and find him on Facebook and LinkedIn

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