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Players must relish the prospect

Posted in ECB Coaches Association

Ahead of the npower Ashes Series this summer ECB psychologist Michael Caulfield explains how coaches at all levels can help players perform on the big stage...

Do players get nervous ahead of a big game or a big series? The best learn to cope with nerves. In truth they manage the expectation far better than those around them.

Fans and sometimes even staff around the team have more issues with nerves and anxiety. The players are trained to deal with the pressure and develop mechanisms for coping.

Take Andy Murray at Wimbledon this summer. The pressure on him seems to come from a whole nation, but he looks far more relaxed than some of those watching him on the big screen on the hill at Wimbledon.

The best the England players can do ahead of the series is look forward to and relish the prospect. Elite sportsmen see it as an honour and a privilege to be involved, and an opportunity to do something great.

{error}In that way they will not be affected by nerves. Certainly at big sporting occasions the crowd feels the pressure more than the players. The players can focus on the skills and their role within the team. They need to play the game not the emotion. They simply (!) need to use all the skills and routines they have developed over the years.

I have got tickets to Cardiff for that first Test, and I know it will be fever pitch for us, the fans.

The players should be the calmest people on that first morning. The train tickets are booked, the picnic hamper is ready to go and I can hardly wait.

Michael works in both football and cricket. What is he doing at this time of year?

I have just finished a tremendous three years working with Gareth Southgate and his coaching team at Middlesbrough FC. We had two great years and obviously more recently one disappointing season, but I learnt just as much when we were losing as when we were winning.

I am planning to work with individual players and coaches at other Premier League and Championship clubs next season.

During the summer I divide my time between Sussex CCC and working on the ECB coach education programme.

I had an interesting conversation with a Sussex player last night who said “sports psychology is the obvious”. He is absolutely right.

The question I ask is “how often do any of us do the obvious?” The hardest thing, not just as sports psychologist but as cricket coaches generally, is to do nothing.

Sometimes by our desire to intervene we can be doing the player a dis-service. When the player approaches the coach, or asks for help, then intervention is appropriate, but often at this time of the season it is best to leave the player to get on with it. There can be a real temptation to do something new, weird and whacky, but try and resist that temptation.

The extent of my work might be encouraging a cue word. This can perhaps be a descriptive word to summarise a player’s state of play or state of mind.

I encourage coaches and players to work together painting pictures in their mind. If players are taking part in a big game, get them to visualise and go through a dry run in their mind. This means when a player arrives at the match on the day, although it is a new experience, they have rehearsed it.

How it will feel? What will be on the player’s mind? What it will look like? What noise will the crowd be making? Matthew Hayden was the master of visualisation. He would sit at the popping crease for 30 minutes before play, running through the events about to unfold in great detail.

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