In previous parts we have examined practical coaching tools that can be used at sessions by coaches. There is more to come in future parts, however, this part will look in more detail at the underpinning psychology of coaching and how understanding it will help us.
If you’re less interested in theory, skip this part. However it is helpful for all coaches so I do recommend reading it before getting to the more juicy practical stuff later on.
That’s because coaching the psychology of cricket is not just a few mental training techniques. It’s the essential glue that makes coaching work on every level.
This fundamental principle is contrary to the “4 corner” approach to coaching: Splitting technical, tactical, physical and psychological apart and focus on tools to boost each corner seperately to develop players.
I have found that training with these boxes leads to overemphasis on the technical - because it can be seen and adjusted at training - while tactics are left for game day, physical is part of the warm up (if at all) and psychology languishes without attention.
Instead, think about how psychology is intertwined with everything we have worked on: Purpose and principles provide motivation and focus. Behaviours are driven by thoughts and feelings. Skill development is built on self-awareness and decision-making. We can’t “do” psychology and tick it of like a to-do list item. It’s an ongoing process that is part of every aspect of the game. In short, it’s always been about psychology and it always will be.
As coaches, psychology allows us to have great conversations, get to know how players think and feel, and learn how to act to help them as cricketers and as humans.
Action from thought
Psychology is important because what we do - our actions and behaviours - is driven by how we think and what we feel.
When something happens, our brains and player’s brains always go through a process like this:
We have a thought, that influences our feelings and actions.
We have a feeling which influences our thoughts and actions.
We react and do something which influences our thoughts and feelings.
This loop is called the cognitive triangle. A good example is a batsman who plays and misses at three balls in a row. She might think “great, I survived that tricky over” and feel relieved. She might also think “oh no, I’m in terrible form” and feel anxious. Both of these states influence what she does next. She might change her plan, bat with more fear and less intent, be more attacking or do nothing different at all. This may be a conscious decision, or an unconscious reaction.
Whatever happens, the key point for coaches is thoughts and feelings are crucial to action yet they all happen in the head. We cannot ever see them, only the actions that follow them.
However, we can help the player understand action is influenced by how they interpret events. Our thoughts and feelings about something are not the thing itself; as we saw from our batsman who could have had a positive or negative reaction.
This means our interpretation can be altered by changing what we think.
Psychology has often been associated with treating negatives. From fear of failure to mental illness, the image is one of a doctor fixing the broken brain, not promoting the positive.
Just like fixing technical flaws in cricketers, this can work. Yet, coaching is about helping people flourish beyond flaws and achieve excellence. This philosophy matches up with the ideas behind “positive psychology”, the study of what makes life worth living.
Primarily, positive psychology is about finding meaning: Why we do what we do. Having a purpose is highly motivating and makes us far more likely to do well. As we already know, cracking on with drills and games without purpose leads to frustration, lack of focus and even players leaving the sport.
Meaning comes from our needs as a human. We all want certain things and if those needs are met, we are motivated to continue. According to the science of self-determination theory, these needs are:
Self-control. Feeling like you are making your own decision, and not directed by others.
Connection. Helping others and having others help you. Making a significant contribution to the world through relationships with people.
Mastery. Moving towards excellence through your own actions.
Knowing these motivations is crucial for us as coaches. That’s why we ask “why do you play cricket?”. The answers will reveal motivational cues about the best ways to coach people to stay focused. It also allows us to stop coaching in ways that don’t meet those needs. We have covered the process here.
Meaning is linked to action by our mindset; how we interpret the world.
Although there are many world views, when it comes to learning, self-control and mastery, research has shown there are two: Growth and fixed.
Fixed mindset people (we have called them Corinthians previously) believe ability is predetermined. Success and failure is proof of where you are on the scale and, crucially, there’s very little you can do about it. Meanwhile, those with a growth mindset (Warriors) believe in the power of improvement through effort. Success and failure are evidence of areas to improve. Failure is part of the learning process. These mindsets are not related either to will to win (we all want to win) or current standard. World-class sportsmen can have a fixed mindset. Beginner children can have a growth mindset. And vice versa.
As coaches we prefer to work with those with growth mindset because they want to learn and continue through failure. Nevertheless, often we will also coach fixed mindset players. We need to understand each player’s mindset and adapt training to match (or change) this. We have covered the topic in some detail here.
Growth doesn’t cover our need for connection directly, but using the Rule of Three (R3), we can build connective behaviours into our sessions as well. As you recall, the Rule Two part of R3 is powerful because players can connect directly by either,
Trying to help other by highlighting their behaviours (both unacceptable and exceptional)
Asking for help when they can’t solve a problem alone.
As we have discussed before, this is not easy for players. Cricket can be highly individual and needing help can be seen as weakness. It’s here as coach you can have a powerful influence by using R3 to influence players to connect. After all, we all need help because we can only improve if we fail and learn from it. If they still don’t get the message, R3 can switch from carrot to stick when you intervene.
As a side note, if you coach players with a fixed mindset, you will find they are most resistant to asking for help, or being given advice. However, they still have a role in connection and team spirit. They can work with growth mindset players to advise them. The Warriors will be open to advice and being challenged. The Corinthians will be delighted to expose their knowledge. R3 gives scope for that to happen.
As you can see from these examples, as coaches we need to be aware of the player’s mindset and be determined to work with what they have. Meanwhile, players need to transfer these views into better performance.
This is the role of self-awareness. Which we will cover next.