Mindfulness has wonderful applications to sport. I have two sons that play cricket and it can be a hard school of learning. However everything is an opportunity and cricket is the perfect teacher.
Mindfulness is about learning to empty our minds and be present right now in this moment. If we can practice this in meditation or in our daily lives being centered in the present moment, it increases our ability to focus. On the cricket field that may mean emptying our mind and just focusing on watching the ball or on whatever spot you focus on when bowling. It’s about getting our head out of the way and allowing our bodies to do what they are good at doing. We can practice this even with short meditations focused on the breath or on emptying the mind. We can also practice just by being present during the day with whatever we are doing for example just washing the dishes or taking out the rubbish or noticing your breathing while driving. The aim is not to be thinking about past or future, just to be present right now with whatever we are doing.
Fear plays a huge role in any sport or any time we expect ourselves to perform. It is never possible to get rid of fear, we have to learn to do the opposite just allow it to be there. If we have nerves or fear and we think ‘this is terrible , I shouldn’t have this, what’s wrong with me?’ We tend to make the situation much worse we develop anxiety about having the fear and we are judging ourselves in the process.
With any emotion the best way to be at peace with it and to move beyond it is to simply acknowledge it and accept it. So for every cricketer walking out onto the field who has some nerves ( which is everyone) simply fully acknowledge your fear and completely accept it then go back to focusing on the game. This will not make your fear worse at all, it will actually help you to move beyond it and also will stop that cycle of self judgement that tends to make us feel worse about ourselves (continuously judging ourselves is a major cause of depression and anxiety).Acknowledge your fear, fully accept it, then just focus on the ball. Human nature is to aim to suppress our emotions. If we have fear we aim to bury it deep so as not to feel it. Unfortunately this has never worked for any emotion. It can be useful to think of emotions like a termites nest if we expose them to the light with acceptance they will move away and never cause problems, bury them and they can cause huge problems. So allow your fear you will end up being more at peace with yourself and more relaxed than if you aim to suppress it. As a parent aim not to say to your child “don’t be scared”, instead say “just be scared and accept it”. You will be teaching them to accept themselves and that is a wonderful thing.
There is a trick to acknowledging emotion with acceptance. It is not about allowing yourself to ruminate on fear based thoughts. It is simply accepting any fear that is in your body. If there is a fear based thought like “what if I get out?” simply accept it and let it go. When we have negative thoughts if we fight against them we are attaching more to them so just accept and let go ,like watching clouds pass in the sky. In a breath or two you can accept any fear in your body and then refocus on the ball.Aim to return to that empty head and just focusing.
None of us can magically fix our confidence, however we can learn to work with it and not against it. If we are going through a period of low confidence just acknowledge it and accept that is the way it is. The best way to move beyond that is with compassion. So as a batsman allow yourself a bit more settling in time as much as the game will allow. Aim to start with the shots you feel the most confident with, that might be keeping it at singles or two’s and slowly letting yourself find your way in. Accept dot balls as part of the process. If its your normal game to go for the bigger shots and there are some you feel very comfortable with, bring those in when you can. I heard Steve Smith interviewed after a game in an English test series, he said that he knew he couldn’t let himself go for the bigger shots initially just had to let himself find his way in a bit, he has obviously learnt how to work with a slightly lower confidence level. As a bowler if your confidence is low let yourself bowl your easier balls first or let yourself slow down a bit. As your body starts to settle then slowly add in your harder balls. With both batting or bowling always allow that not every shot or ball will be perfect there are going to be mistakes along the way we are all human.
Another issue to be aware of is, when we are under confident we have a natural tendency to withdraw. In footy or soccer this may mean we don’t go for the ball as much . All we have to do is just accept our confidence is low but still make ourselves go for the ball or the tackles, just do all the basics and we will find our way back in. If we let ourselves withdraw we won’t get the ball as much and our confidence stays low. In cricket when our confidence is low we may also withdraw too much and stay at the crease not turning the runs over which won’t help. So aim as a batsman to keep turning the ball over making a single when possible, hit the bad balls and this will help us to find our way in.
Also aim not to withdraw from the shot we play. When our confidence is low we may not play the shot properly because we tend to withdraw or not fully commit.Have some awareness of still committing well to the shot and getting yourself to the right position . Same with bowling if your confidence is low aim to be aware you are still doing the basics well not just going through the motions but still putting energy in and your confidence will come back. In summary the aim with low confidence would be to acknowledge it and accept it, aim to let ourselves build it up slowly and compassionately and to be aware of not withdrawing.The same applies if we are under confident socially too, just accept ourselves work on it slowly and compassionately and aim to not withdraw from people or else they will think we don’t like them and the situation will worsen. It is scary to start with but aim at least to be warm and start with easier people or just individuals not groups.
Be yourself and don’t put too much pressure on yourself
I have watched my sons get out early many times or struggle with their bowling because they are trying to be something they are not or putting too much pressure on themselves. All of us have our way of doing things and it is important to let ourselves be, we don’t have to be Dave Warner ,Steve Smith, Shane Warne or Mitchell Johnson we can actually be ourselves and still do well. Of course there may be things we need to work on and it is very important to acknowledge those and make sure we do address them. However any changes we need to work on can be done compassionately and at a pace that is at least comfortable enough for our bodies. If we try and push ourselves too hard it won’t help, we can certainly work on things but do it in a way that is manageable. Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say. An example of that may be if we need to work on building our run rate. It probably wouldn’t be helpful to expect ourselves to suddenly be able to go out and smash balls around it would be too much of a change our bodies may feel too uncomfortable and it could end badly. If instead we said, “ok I will work on the singles or easy shots for my first few overs , then when I am more comfortable and maybe on around 30 I will aim to really hit maybe one bad ball an over.” We could slowly build this up over time. In other words always make change in a way that your body will be able to manage. Whenever I have seen my sons put too much pressure on themselves to be different from who they are comfortable with being or expect great things of themselves it usually ends badly. If they need to make changes they can do that in a way their bodies will manage. In the nets or at practice they can work on everything but in the games just go a little gently on themselves it helps in the long run. Sport is a wonderful teacher for life all these comments can apply to life in general. Honestly face whatever changes you need to make in yourself but aim to do it slowly and with compassion. Otherwise learn to be yourself not who the world or others expect, just be who you need to be.
Another aspect that can really help when we tend to put to much pressure on ourselves is to let go of any endpoint and be accepting of all outcomes. If we get promoted to a new team and put ourselves under huge pressure to perform it doesn’t help. If we get into a new team there is wisdom in saying,” Ok I will just take each ball as it comes. If I stay in this team great, if I don’t I will accept that too.” Over time it will get easier.
Of course we all want to do well and the easiest way to move beyond the pressure we put ourselves under is actually to accept that we want to do well. To quote Eckhart Tolle “whatever we accept we move beyond.”So just accept you would like to perform, this enables you to let it go and just focus on the game, one ball at a time.
Accept everything you cannot change
In cricket as in life there will always be things that we can’t change. There is never any point resisting or complaining about those things that is just wasted energy and will not help you focus or be calm. All those things like; the condition of the pitch, the fact that you may be facing scary bowlers or bowling to good batsman, the fact that there is always pressure to score or take wickets, the fact that you might feel a little unwell today,the fact that the other team gives lots of flak, whatever it is, there is nothing you can do about any of those things so just let them be. You may need to adjust your game or be a bit more gentle on yourself if the pitch is terrible, but don’t waste energy complaining about something that is unchangeable.Accept what is, take a breath and focus.
Accept your failures and mistakes
Like the rest of us, you will have failures, make mistakes and have successes, this is life. Failure and mistakes are simply learning opportunities they are never a reason to judge ourselves. I’m sure your coach will have something to say to you about what you could have done differently just listen and take it on board. However when you get home or have some time alone spend 10 minutes meditating and then tune in. Just check ” did I accept my fear, was I being myself doing it my way,was I making sure I didn’t withdraw but rather going for my shots or the ball, was I aiming to make any changes compassionately , was I accepting what I couldn’t change, was I letting go of putting pressure on myself?” If you keep practicing doing this and practice being present it will help you in your sport and it will help you in life also.