With the Cricket World Cup fast approaching it seems a good time to look into the psychological aspects the game. With such a focus recently on mental health, people have been referring back to Jonathon Trott’s unfortunate exit of the Ashes 13/14, with the man himself referring to ‘Burnout’ as a major factor. Cricket is possibly the most individual team sport there is, no more than for a batsmen. It is these individual demands on players that cause such a demand for mental toughness. For a batsmen in any form of the game it takes one mental slip or the tiniest lack of concentration for their day to be over. These fine margins are what make mental toughness so important for any batsmen, elite right the way down to grassroots. “the ability to prepare for optimal performance is crucial.” (Cotterill, 2011, p.82).
The need for mental toughness in cricket is best described by Bull et al. (2005, p.210) when they state that cricket is “a sport that requires ‘chronic’ mental toughness”. This is because cricket as a sport varies in length of game, ranging from 20 over games to games that last 5 days, following this up with the intensity of the game which requires mental toughness to “willingly enter into the high intensity confrontation between batter and bowler, and actually revel in the situation” (Bull et al. 2005, p.211) combines for a sport to push a players mental toughness to its limits. From the results of Bull et al. (2005) study they developed general five dimensions of mental toughness; Personal responsibility, Dedication and commitment, Belief, Developmental factors and Coping with pressure (2005, p.217). These were sub-divided into themes which would in turn relate to the mental toughness pyramid Bull et al. (1996, quoted in Bull et al. 2005, p.216) which had four categories; tough thinking, tough attitudes, tough character and environmental influences. From this study we take that a person’s mental toughness, despite personal efforts, is somewhat rooted in their environment. Suggesting that being in and around those with already mentally tough mind sets can breed a mentally tough environment. This can be seen within sporting families who achieve success; for example Chris and Stuart Broad, a father and son who have both achieved national representation.
Gucciardi and Jones (2012) back up the Bull’s five dimensions stating that although the wording may change in differing literature they all have similar ideals of; ‘self-belief, attentional control, resilience, success mind-set, optimistic thinking, emotional awareness and regulation/affective intelligence, ability to handle challenge, contextual intelligence.’ It is these key aspects, although wording may differ, that make up mental toughness and subsequently allow of optimal performance.
There seems to be a general consensus which is highlighted in Gucciardi and Jones’ (2012) paper when they cite two separate studies containing six individuals, Gucciardi, Gordon and Dimmock (2009a) and; Jones, Hannton and Connaughton (2007). Gucciardi and Jones (2012) also go on to state that individual profiles of mental toughness are a key area for future research. The constant need for individual profiles is to be expected; if you look at other areas of sport psychology, specifically optimal arousal, each individual is different and each sport has different requirements. For example Boxing and Darts are sports where optimal arousal levels will differ, but again within that sport you can have extroverted and introverted athletes who will again vary in optimum arousal levels. Monitoring individual profiles of mental health is also key to maintaining or increasing mental toughness. High levels of mental toughness can be linked to low levels of negative emotional states, therefore mental toughness can be undone by poor mental health (Gucciardi and Jones, 2012).
As you can see mental toughness is a key aspect for sport let alone cricket, it is something that should be worked on just like bowling or batting, and deserves greater focus and attention over the coming years, to help prevent Trott like situations from happening again. Whilst sport is a high pressure environment, at its heart it is played for enjoyment and that should never be forgotten.