To find out what it means to be ‘mentally tough’ in the world of cricket, Stephen Bull, a consultant psychologist, and colleagues at the English and Wales Cricket Board asked 12 elite English players, several of whom had previously been ranked as a top-ten batsman or bowler in the world.
Four main themes emerged from interviews with the cricket stars – ‘environmental influences’, ‘tough character’, ‘tough attitudes’ and ‘tough thinking’. The authors said the relationship between these themes was key, with the framework best visualised as a pyramid with environmental influences at the base. These influences lead to a generally tough character, which in turn manifests as a set of tough attitudes. “Finally, and very specifically”, they explained, “…on top of these attitudes sits ‘tough thinking’, which represents the key psychological properties of a ‘mentally tough’ mind, oriented towards the competition demands of the moment”.
Key environmental factors were: parental influence, childhood background, exposure to foreign cricket and overcoming childhood setbacks. “I must have been 15 when I was going to be signed up as a leg spinner and then just lost it. That was mentally a very defining year for me. You’ve gone from being a hero in your school to being a bloke who’s lost it” one player explained.
Aspects of ‘tough character’ included being independent and having resilient confidence. ‘Tough attitudes’ included being willing to take risks, going the extra mile, believing in quality preparation and having a ‘never say die’ mindset. “You can throw whatever stones you want at me but I am not going off this course. It might take me 10 or 15 years but I will get there. I will play for England” one player said, recalling his early career attitudes. Tough thinking included good decision making at critical moments in a match, honest self-appraisal, and overcoming self-doubts.
The authors said that thanks to recommendations arising from the research, the role of sports psychology consultants is now developing within the ECB’s age-group squads.
Bull, S.J., Shambrook, C.J., James, W. & Brooks, J.E. (2005). Towards an understanding of Mental Toughness in Elite English Cricketers. Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 17, 209-227.
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