Cricket is arguably the most time-demanding sport in the world, even at club level. The people that play it have to love it – why else would they spend weekend after weekend of long days in the hot sun waiting for something to happen?
Reflecting on the dozens of 40 degree days in the field, first-ball ducks (and stinking hangovers) I endured playing over 15 years of senior cricket, I came to realise that this ridiculous sport is actually an amazing way to develop life-skills and resilience. Very few team sports still have so much emphasis on individual performance and whether one plays as a batsman or a bowler, they are almost completely responsible for their own success or failure.
Planning: Preparation for performance
The introduction of the online MyCricket portal was a boon for those with a high attention to detail (and total cricket nuffies) like myself. MyCricket enabled anyone who was so-inclined find full statistics on the opposition players, work out who was their most dangerous batsman and bowler, who’d played higher grades or who had been promoted from a lower grade, how a leading batsman was most likely to get out. All of these factors had previously needed to be based on memory or group knowledge of the opposition. Suddenly this information was easily accessible and an astute captain can easily exploit it to develop plans with his team. The number of times we were able to get a top batsman out early, or make sure we saw off a dangerous bowler showed the value of research and pre-planning.
Interpersonal Relationships: Effectively managing all relationships
Cricketers get to spend large periods of time sitting around chatting to each other while waiting to bat. While a player may never be best mates with all of their teammates, this time sitting around and getting to know each other certainly does help to build team morale. Nobody is going to pay hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars per year to spend some 10 hours a week with people that they don’t really like. Cricketers learn to find common ground and overcome personality differences as they work towards a shared goal. Sure they may disagree or even argue with teammates at times – but in all of my years of cricket I witnessed very few players who could not put their differences with others aside when it came to game time and then share a beer and a laugh in the change rooms at the end of play.
Self-Awareness: Understanding your strengths and weaknesses
To be successful, a cricketer needs to know their own game extremely well and have an understanding of their best chances for success. Some players have a rock-solid defence, other a magnificent pull-shot or a searing bouncer. Attempting to play shots, bowl deliveries or play a role that is not within their skill set is risky and can have a detrimental impact on their team. Knowing how their strengths and weaknesses correspond with those of their teammates and the best way they can contribute to the team is vital for team success. Those that over-estimate their abilities will very quickly be found out and struggle for success.
Responsibility: Your actions are within your power and control
A cricket coach may have 40 or more players through multiple teams that he/she is trying to organise. It is simply not possible to work individually with each player during training sessions. Different coaches may have strengths at identifying technical flaws, designing skill drills or game play situations. This is an in-depth process of research (watching others), reflection (what did I do well/not well) and seeking feedback (how can I improve). Most of my major technical flaws were identified by myself through watching better players, and then consulting with coaches and senior players about the best ways to improve in these areas. Players must take responsibility for their own development as there are simply not enough hours available for a coach to do this for each player. At the end of the day, the individual is the only one who can control their preparation and has the power to improve.
Ownership: Owning up to your actions
This is something that many cricketers will not learn until much later in their careers. It is so tempting for a cricketer to blame a bad umpiring decision, a freaky catch or a mute teammate who forgot to call for their own failures. But ultimately they must come to realise that if they’d hit the ball for four instead of being missing, the umpire wouldn’t have given them out caught behind. If they hadn’t mishit the ball in the air the freaky catch wouldn’t have been taken and if they had been backing up better, they would not have been run-out. Sure, there are always exceptions, but in most cases cricketers need to take ownership of their own actions rather than blaming others for their downfall.
Accountability: You are answerable for your actions
As with ownership, it is easiest for cricketers to blame others, make excuses or deny that they are personally at fault. A successful cricketer will learn that they will only ever improve if they are answerable for their actions. Elite cricketers often set personal game plans that align with their role as a component of the whole team and team plan. However, I have seen too many players use the excuse that they were just “playing their natural game” when dismissed to an attacking shot during a crucial period of play. Other coaches may disagree, but in my view these players are in a state of denial – they are refusing to be answerable for getting out when the team needed them to knuckle down. A personal game plan is a fantastic idea, but the team must take precedence over individual methods and players need the ability to modify a plan when the team requires stabilisation.
Resilience and Durability: Bounce-back and move forward
Every cricketer has been through the dreaded form slump. Every false shot as a batsman gets caught, every edge off a great delivery gets dropped, every half-chance in the field seems to slip through the fingers. Umpires, opponents and teammates can all be blamed, confidence can be wiped clean. The worst mindset comes when a batsmen feels like there are 20 fielders, no gaps and cannot find their next run. Or a bowler feels like the pitch is 40 metres long and they are running up a 40 degree gradient into a 80 knot wind to deliver the ball. At some point a cricketer will realise that a golden duck will not stop the rotation of the Earth and another wicket-less spell will not summon the four horsemen of the apocalypse. As hard as it can be to break out of a funk like this, cricketers need to find a way to move forward. Maybe this will come by trying something different, changing a training technique or (heaven-forbid) going down a grade to find some form. A positive mindset and a commitment to re-finding that form and confidence is the only way forward. Believing that the next golden period when the ball looks like a basketball or even bad balls take wickets is just around the corner will help to rebuild that confidence.
Now I must admit that none of these lessons were instantaneous; most took many years of reflection on the lessons I learned through my own actions while observing others and the mistakes they were making. The intention of this post is to highlight the value of team sports like cricket to developing as a person and how these skills can be used in work, life and play.