Mindfulness has wonderful applications to sport. I have two sons that played cricket and other sports. Sport can be a hard school of learning. However everything is an opportunity for discovery.
What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is about learning to empty our minds and be present right now in this moment. It increases our ability to focus and flow. On the cricket field that may mean emptying our mind and just focusing on watching the ball. It’s about non attachment to thought and letting the body flow . We can practice this even with short meditations focused on the breath or on emptying the mind. See my meditations section here.
We can also practice just by being present during the day with whatever we are doing. For example noticing your breathing while driving. When practicing presence, thoughts will come and go. We don’t have to be rid of thought, it’s more about letting thoughts be. Then refocusing on the task at hand.
How to deal with fear/anxiety, that is inevitable playing sport
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 feel nervous and we think ‘this is terrible , I shouldn’t have this.’ We tend to increase our body tension. We develop anxiety about having the fear and we are judging ourselves in the process.
With any emotion the best way to move beyond it, is to simply acknowledge 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 lovingly accept it. Then go back to focusing on the game. This is how to move beyond fear. It will also stop that cycle of self judgement that tends to make us feel worse about ourselves. Judging ourselves for our nerves, contributes to depression and anxiety.
Expose emotions to the light
Humans likes to suppress emotion. If we have fear we aim to bury it deeply so as not to feel it. Unfortunately this escalates the emotional tension internally. 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. If we bury them, they cause huge problems. So allow your fear, you will end up being more at peace with yourself and more relaxed . 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 beautiful thing.
Accept any fear based thoughts, this lets them pass
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 to them more .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 game.
How to heal lack of confidence, the answer is gentility & commitment
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 it exactly as 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 finding your way in. Accept dot balls as part of the process. If it’s your normal game to go for the bigger shots and there are some you feel very comfortable with, bring those in when you can. It is definitely important to keep playing the right balls, as turning it over slowly does build your confidence.
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 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.
You can move beyond low confidence simply by not withdrawing
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. This doesn’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. Still put 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.
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 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, or Mitchell Johnson we can actually be ourselves and still do well. Of course there may be things we need to work on. It is 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 comfortable for our bodies. If we try and push ourselves too hard it won’t help. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
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. This 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 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. In the nets or at practice work on everything. However in the games just go a little gently with yourself, it helps in the long run.
Let go of attaching too much, to a fixed outcome
Another aspect that helps when we tend to put to much pressure on ourselves, is to let go of any end point 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. 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 actually enables you to let it go. Then 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 complaining about those things. That is just wasted energy and will not help you focus. All those things like; the condition of the pitch, the scary bowlers, the good batsman, the pressure to score or take wickets, 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. When you get home after the game spend 10 minutes meditating and then tune in. Just check ” did I accept my fear, was I being myself and settling in , was I making sure I didn’t withdraw, 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.