If we agree psychology underpins performance through behaviour, resilience is embedded in everything we do as coaches. As humans we need failure and adversity to grow. If we treat stress and resilience as something that everyone experiences, we can sharpen the tool.
Our players can use resilient actions to flourish, even from a young age.
As we know, resilience is built on awareness. It’s the ability to bounce back from failure, or behave helpfully in adverse or high stress situations. Clearly this is useful in a cricket context where failure happens all the time and success and failure are separated by small margins.
We all experience these moments, and we all have thoughts and feelings about them. This gives us all the chance to be resilient in our actions as a result. However, it also gives us a chance to slip back to red head thinking and unhelpful actions.
Two players might go into a big final, one feeling incredible pressure, one as cool as a cucumber. They are both self-aware. Each one can react with blue head thinking, avoid red head thinking and appearing incredibly resilient even as the team has a batting collapse around them. Equally, either can slip into thinking traps and end up behaving in harmful ways to the team, like playing a high risk shot.
Either way, as coaches, we can build an environment that helps our players be aware of their state and react in an resilient manner.
A challenge environment is one where players are both challenged to improve, and supported in their efforts. If you are old school you might say “an iron fist in a silk glove”. It’s this combination that leads to resilience.
Lets say you are running a testing session where you racked up the difficulty and put more meaning on the outcome. The classic “pressure net” is saying “out means out”, but there are many ways to do this.
Another example is the “hunger games nets”. I played this recently with a squad who wanted to put their run scoring under pressure. The idea was bowlers who bowled two wides were eliminated and batsmen who faced three dots were eliminated. It lead to unfair results with one batsman surviving for a long time and one player not getting a bat.
A lot of coaches leave it there, letting the activity do the work. However, this is not enough in itself because players get caught in thinking traps.
Classically they will blame others, find excuses about “wasting” time or consider it unfair someone else got a longer bat. They are focused on ways of avoiding looking at their own red head mindset.
To combat this we use three methods.
First, we agree behaviours before the nets start. Resilience emerges from awareness of the feelings and physical reactions that come when anxious and when treated unfairly with no recourse. To manage this, players can agree success markers. For example, use their blue head reset every time and make sure to review effectively.
Second, the Rule of Three (R3) is used to relentlessly apply those markers. If a player is huffing about something they have agreed to manage, their team mates are the first reminder. The coach is the second reminder. This supportive part is often missed when applying extra pressure to practice. The goal is to agree outcomes then enforce them when players forget or get caught in a thinking trap.
When stopping a player in a moment like this, your first question is always to ask what the goal is and what’s happening (“why am I stopping you at this moment?”). The player will ideally remember the agreement and reset. However, if you start hearing excuses, justifications, blaming or any other overthinking, you can follow up with a question to reframe their thinking,
What’s the worst that can happen?
Sometimes you will need to dig deeper, asking “then what?” after a surface fear covers up the real trap. However with the biggest fear stated, often players will realise its not that bad after all. They find themselves back in blue head as they relax and return to the moment.
If they need more help to get back to blue, you can follow up with a reframing question:
Is there another way to view the situation?
This question encourages problem solving rather than excuses or justifications. It’s not positive for the sake of it, but it is supportive in trying to help a player react helpfully to disappointment after failure and focus on what to do next to reduce the risk next time.
As coach, we can also use R3 to break state in other ways. Questions with a serious tone work well, but so does humour. It’s hard to be angry or upset when someone is making light of a situation. If someone is laughing, or rolling their eyes, or bantering, they can’t be in a down state. There’s no harm in showing people they are not their feelings by changing how they feel in a second with a stupid joke. As long as you follow up with helpful reminders.
It’s worth noting that all these techniques can also be peer managed. The Rule of Two gives space for team mates to help each other. This is powerful because it engages with players direct need for connection. It feels good to be useful to another person, it feels good to be a valuable contributor to team spirit. By learning about state and helping others understand their state in the moment players can contribute directly to the team without scoring a run or taking a wicket.
Although players know this, it’s often the case they are caught up in their own game to notice the state of others. Becoming more connected is a process too. As coaches we can remind players they have the tools to build each other up. Ideally, this will start to happen without our intervention as players see and feel the benefits, but for a while you’ll need the third level of R3 as a reminder.
The final tool is effective reviews, which we have discussed here. The review allows players to dig deep into their thinking after a testing session or match. During an extended review players can be prompted by the coach to consider the “stop, start, continue” about their thinking as well as their actions.
For example, consider a player who gets angry about getting out. By throwing the bat and shouting in the dressing room they are displaying frustration not resilience. But where is this coming from? Are they blaming the umpire? Do they assume their place in the side is at stake? Are they frustrated the side is likely to lose? Getting to the root of the issue can be tricky but some probing around the review questions is helpful.
It starts with the player admitting they want to stop getting angry about getting out. This opens the door to follow up and ask why:
Why do you feel like that in the moment?
Is there an alternative reaction and what is it?
As coach, you can use the PACE method to help this player to stop looking at the issue as catastrophic proof of failure of their worth as a human being (a common thinking trap) and see it as what it really is; a game. A game where we can have goals and improve ourselves, but not one that defines our existence by the outcome, especially as we have very little control over so many factors; conditions, opposition strength, umpiring quality, luck and so on.
With this stoic awareness as the base, next make concrete actions to take. For the player caught up in anger, taking a moment in the dressing room to take those three blue head breaths and make a reframing statement like “I know what I need to do to prevent this happening, but for now the best thing is to support the batsmen still fighting for us”. Then, let the anger slip away and walk out to your team mates on the balcony committed to being the best supporter who ever lived. Isn’t that a more helpful choice than stewing alone on the other side of the outfield for an hour?
Although this is one example of choosing resilient behaviour, we can apply it across the board to any red head thinking. This includes the resilience review when you are successful. A player is not resilient because they took five wickets and the team won. Players might still be engaged in thinking traps after success. Reviews are just as valid and useful in these moments too. It’s important players feel able to discuss their thinking, regular reviewing in all circumstances allows for this to happen.
Resilience is not another box to tick, its part of the underpinning of cricket skills and tactics. We all have built in resilience but we can all learn to become aware of it and display more resilient behaviour. This is done by,
Having a supportive yet challenging environment, built around the Rule of Three.
Having regular reviews that allow players to discuss their thinking and understand what to do.
Remembering that thoughts and feeling do not dictate actions, and we can decide to be exceptional in behaviours in any circumstance.
Speaking of decisions, this is an area we have discussed a great deal in passing so far. As we know, this has traditionally not had much attention in coaching. It’s clear that we need to make sense of coaching decision-making next.