It’s often said that cricket is all in the mind; indeed most experienced players will tell you that 90% of the game is in your head. Yet as cricketers, we spend the vast majority of our time practising technique when we should be working at mental toughness - conditioning the mind to deal with the situations we are likely to face.
I’ve listed some training methods that will help improve your mental strength based upon the sort of game scenario you might come across. Your aim should be to replicate match conditions as much as possible, to practice as you play. The British Army have a philosophy which sportsmen would do well to follow “Train hard – fight easy.” It’s good advice….
Creating pressure to replicate match situations
Most of the routines listed involve the presence of pressure. Pressure is the single biggest factor in failing to achieve a cricketing objective – not technique. Imagine being asked to catch a ball in fielding practice, a task you fulfil with no dramas. Then, the coach asks you to catch the same ball but tells you that if you drop it, he will drop you from the team for the rest of the season. The technical aspect of the catch is no different but the outcome certainly is.
Without resorting to such drastic measures, there are incentives/pressures you can introduce yourself to help you increase your mental toughness. Here are some examples: Physical training - 1 lap of the ground for every catch you drop. Financial – You decide to give £1 to charity for every wide you bowl during a channel bowling drill. Treats – Every time you get out in the nets, you offer to buy the successful bowler a beer. Be careful here…if he’s any good he could spend the whole season intoxicated.
Mental training: Batting
- Nets – when you’re out, you’re out. The easiest thing in the world is to go in and look a million dollars in the nets in the knowledge that you’ll have your 20 minutes of batting regardless of how many times you’re dismissed. Be hard on yourself. Tell the other players if you are out in the nets to a genuine dismissal, you’ll be coming out. It will concentrate your mind, I guarantee.
- Target setting. Set yourself a target to win the game off your own bat. If it’s 32 not out, play until you achieve your target, altering the field realistically as the fielding captain would.
- Playing the field. With a minimal amount of bowlers in your net, ask each of them to set you a field. This is excellent practice, particularly against spin, where you will need a clear idea of how you are going to score your runs.
- Runs per over. Set yourself a scoring rate during nets in runs needed per over either in setting or chasing a target. If you fall too far behind, or get out, another batter padded up comes in and takes your place.
Mental Training: Bowling
- Channel bowling to a keeper or mitt. Excellent practice away from the nets. For every wide you bowl (put out 2 cones as your channel that the ball must go through being very strict on legside wides), impose a penalty on yourself.
- Bowl with a new ball. Ever bowled with a new ball in a match and it just didn’t feel right in your hand? Or asked not to bowl with the new ball because you don’t like the lacquer? If you always practice with your favourite net ball which feels lovely and comfortable when you grip it, you’re making life very hard for yourself when it comes to bowling in a match and you have no choice over which ball you use. Spend £7 and buy yourself a new ball to bowl with – then try the channel bowling drill with penalties.
- New ball for spinners. Most spinners only ever bowl with an old ball, but there are many times when a spinner is brought into the attack very early, and sometimes opens the bowling. Practice using a new ball to prepare yourself for this eventuality.
- Death bowling. Bowling at the death is a challenge to most bowlers. Set a field and ask the batter to try and hit you for boundaries. Include an incentive for him for every 4 or 6 he hits.
Mental Training: Fielding & Wicketkeeping
- Pressure catching. Ask your coach/teammate to hit you a range of different catches. Every one you drop is a penalty.
- 20 catches. You have to catch 20 balls on the trot, if you drop 1 it’s back to 0.
- Clean collection. Have series of balls rolled towards you, if you fail to collect any of them cleanly, you suffer a forfeit.
- 10 throws. You are thrown or rolled 10 balls, all of which have to be caught or collected cleanly. All 10 of your throws must reach the keeper/mitter on the full.
- Stumping chance. Keeping wicket up to the stumps, a batter faces 6 balls knowing one of them will see him leave his crease and offer a stumping opportunity. If you fluff it, fitness penalties of 1 minute non-stop press ups or sit ups.
- Timed fielding. You agree with your coach a reasonable time frame to complete a fielding task, for example, retrieving and throwing a ball in from the outfield. If due to misfielding or a bad throw, the task is not completed, you suffer a penalty.
There are many variations on these ideas but I hope they will allow you to train the most important part of your cricketing set up – your mind.