tThere are environments here where leaders talk about how big this game is, how important this game is, and they say, “If we lose this game, we’re out.” I’ve been to a lot of these group environments. There are also environments where leaders talk about how performance in this game determines selection, and poor performance can bring players down. I’ve heard captains from a number of teams I’ve played for say things like, “The spots are up for grabs in the game” or “If you don’t perform, you’ll be eliminated.”
So guess what people in those environments think? “Don’t lose. I really need to perform today. I need to score goals. We need to win. Don’t get out. Don’t dunk badly. Don’t bother me, or I might go.” All this focus on results and fear of failure.
These environments can operate for a shorter period of time, as the fear of failure can prompt individuals to prepare to engage in one very important game. But these environments are not sustainable at all as stress and anxiety build up to the point where the whole team collapses and I have been a part of these environments on a few occasions as well. Evidence is that everyone starts playing just for themselves and their individual spots, and as long as they do enough to be picked for the next match, they are happy. This invariably leads to an incredibly toxic team environment where the enjoyment factor of playing the game you love evaporates and they become all for themselves. We should do everything we can to do the opposite, because the best and most successful team environments always have an aspect of fun and enjoyment to them as a very important undercurrent to everything they do.
Other environments I’ve been a part of are ones where there’s a clear focus on process and the leaders just ask the players to bring in the best version of themselves every time and do it over and over again. They repeat that if we all do this, we give ourselves the best chance of coming out on top. This is exactly what a championship mentality looks like!
This is what made Ricky Ponting such a good captain. He always said to the team in the run-up to the big games that the team that does the basics better and longer will be the team that will come out on top. Our minds are focused on the process, on doing the basics, controlling the A-factors.
Paddy Upton for Rajasthan Royals has built a process driven environment which takes the worry and stress out of a high pressure tournament where performance and results are paramount. Another team environment where it was done very well was the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL under captain MS Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming. I’ve never heard any of them say, “We need to win this game today,” or, “If you don’t score today or take a wicket, you’ll be dropped.”
My second year with CSK really stuck with me. There was no chopping and changing of the selection. On other teams I’ve been with, guys were constantly being handed over. If a player does not perform two games, the selectors will think he was not good enough and will immediately replace him. It meant everyone started looking over their shoulders and thinking, “Oh my God, if I don’t play in a couple of games, I might as well go.”
No matter who we are, we will always have times in our lives where we live in a “results focused” environment. By understanding the mental skills framework in this book, we know that this is the opposite of where we want to be mentally in order to be our best both individually and collectively. We need to listen to what is being said by the leaders in this environment and we need to redirect their words ourselves to say, “I will not let their results influence the right mindset that I need to be the best I can be.” This may be much easier said than done when players are being chipped and changed from One game to another without any rhyme or reason, apart from someone not performing in one game. But understanding this will be a powerful tool that you can use throughout your life to ensure that a negative environment doesn’t permeate your thinking and take you out of your high-functioning mind.
I was a victim of a negative team environment. After the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, the Australian team drifted exponentially. The pressure to perform is starting to take its toll on confidence and consistency. The players, myself included, started to look over our shoulders. I had no knowledge of the mental skills I needed to redirect my thoughts to the right things at the right times to consistently present the best version of myself in every performance, rather than being overcome by fear and overwhelmed by the need for results, which saw my performance ebbing all that time. And this was all at a time when I was in my prime, doing really well in the IPL in an incredibly fun team environment. But once I got back into this other environment, my performance started to deteriorate again, and the fun factor of playing the game I loved so quickly evaporated.
My last three months with the Australia T20 team from early January 2016 until the T20 World Cup in India was another example of one of those environments. We played India in a three-match T20 International series, where the selectors picked a really big team and cut and changed the squad pretty much from game to game, and then this carried over into the T20 series in South Africa before we headed to India. T20 World Cup. The conversations and actions around the group of captains – being the coach, the captain and the selectors – were consistent messages like, ‘All places are up for grabs if you want to play in the T20 World Cup’ and ‘You need to perform in this game where you may only have One chance to press your claim.”
As soon as I heard and saw this, I immediately realized in my mind what such an absurd situation was creating. This time I pulled out. I knew the importance of preparation and focus. The result was that I played ball as I did in T20 cricket for Australia, played one of the matches of my life in the SCG as captain, and retired at the end of the T20 World Cup as the number one T20I player in the world.
Surprise surprise, we lost to India in the quarter-final knockout match. We left a few rounds on the table and didn’t do so well with the ball against an Indian team who had barely changed their lineup from the first game we played against them during the series in Australia, three months ago.
But the situations you’ve seen in the T20 World Cup are everywhere. I saw him recently at a junior cricket match. The result of the match was important as there was a place in the Grand Final. A number of parents have built this game into a knockout game and stressed to the kids the importance of winning to reach the final. Then one of the quietest kids on the team went to bat with two dead ends to go and one of the parents said, “Don’t go out, or we’ll lose” as he went out to bat. And guess what happened. This poor little kid ended up walking out, and because of all the piling importance on this game by the parents and kids around him, the quieter kid lost the plot, throwing his gear everywhere in disappointment at letting his team down. It was very sad to see and something that should never have happened if the parents around the team simply understood the basics of how to create the optimal environment. Hence, fostering the right mindset will be passed on to all young children.
It’s very easy to allow a “live or die” environment to creep into your mind and start to mess with it. It’s easy to start shifting your mind to the fear of failure and how important it is to perform and get results. But by understanding all of the mental skills in this book, you will be armed with everything you need to be mentally strong enough to create a super strong cocoon around yourself, to direct your thoughts towards constantly creating an optimal mental environment for their realization. The best version of you, no matter what team environment you’re in.
We need to do everything we can to help create the best team environment possible, so that people don’t have to feel like they’re rebelling against team leadership just to stay driven by the process, to give their best. The game is possible, the game is in the game. I am convinced that more and more teams should be open to allowing players to manage their mental and physical preparations. everyone is different; everyone gets to know what works for them; Just as much of cricket is individual, so must be much of preparation. Understanding this will create a lot of high-performance team environments, high-performance individuals, and most importantly, more enjoyable team environments, so that we don’t lose the fun and enjoyment of playing the game we love. –cricinfo