Top sports coaches, mental coaches and sports psychologists will often talk about the importance of processes. Process has become a bit of a buzz word in sport, however the understanding of what it actually means and the detail and thinking linked to processes varies greatly from sport to sport and individual to individual. There are many categories of sports process: How I train, How I recover, How I learn, How I prepare for match day, How I play the game, and How I handle key playing moments in the game are all examples of some common sports processes. This article is focused on How I prepare for match day.
I have written about having a Performance Recipe before, however that article was based on looking backwards to extract a recipe and missed out the steps to dynamically adjust it for future challenges. I recommend reading the previous article as well as this one to deepen your understanding of game preparation with a mental focus.
This article is about how to fine-tune an individual’s preparation for a cricket game, however this same strategy could be used for rugby, hockey, football, golf, swimming, in fact any other sport. The principles are the same.
Why do we need processes to prepare for a game?
The short answer is that we want to give ourselves the best possible chance to perform at our best. Peak performance is a lot like cooking. Even a master chef needs to have all the right ingredients to cook well, no matter how many years of cooking he or she has, if that chef forgets to put egg into a cake mixture as an example, it will flop! (20 years of experience and massive cooking talent won’t change that.)
Ideally every athlete has a set list of processes (or ingredients if you like) that they can follow to be ready to perform at their best. If an athlete’s processes are effective then it supports the athlete “letting go” so they can commit to the moment and perform with a quiet mind – it supports them finding their zone. Many junior athletes and some senior athletes follow these processes unconsciously, I recommend doing the exercise below which include making those processes conscious again to ensure that every angle is covered. Another added level of difficulty is that individuals in a team sport will have a team warm-up that may cover only a certain % of what an individual may need. That individual will still need to find or make the time to follow the rest of their recipe.
Where the cooking metaphor doesn’t fit is that there are another 2 levels of complexity that athletes have to deal with when following their peak performance recipe. The individual athlete himself will be physically, emotionally and mentally different from week to week of competition. Tight muscles in legs, a change from batting at 2 to batting at 5 for the first time which brings some tension, or a run of poor results are three examples of how even if the same General Recipe is followed, the outcome might not be the same as the internal challenges are not dealt with directly. The internal challenges are dynamic, they change from match to match, and as such adjustments may need to be made, with perhaps a step added or lengthened to follow the same performance recipe.
Secondly the opposition itself is dynamic, one week you play against the best opposition around, the second week you play against opponents who are great at spin and the third week you play at a venue where you have bad memories. So in this way the external challenges are also dynamic and so adjustments may need to be made to the recipe to manage those challenges.
So high quality game preparation = Following your General Recipe for peak performance + internal challenges adjustments + external challenges adjustments.
If you have more than one distinct role to play it may mean that your recipe and steps need to be customised for each role. (e.g. batting, bowling, fielding) There is a high likelihood that your process would be similar with some specific extra processes added per discipline.
What I have discovered more recently whilst talking to cricketers is that many would have highly detailed Outside Focused processes for a game (clean my kit the night before, hit 40 balls on the day, stretch body dynamically after team stretch, sit alone before batting, etc) however they wouldn’t have any or they would have very vague Inside Focused processes. I would hear things like, I enjoy listening to music – and when I asked, “So what artist/band and what is the effect you want that music to have on you?” There often was lack of a purposeful answer, where what I was hoping for was something like, “I know I need 10 mins of Enya on a normal day and 15 mins if I am feeling stressed to get back to my calm and happy space.” Music as a process can be very useful, however it normally wouldn’t be as effective as accurate self-coaching tools and methods; of which there are many.
Other examples of Inside Focused processes would be – what I do to get into a happy mental space? How do I quieten or empty my mind? How do I let go of any outside stressors or negativity to focus 100% on my performance and stay in the now? How do I effectively and directly deal with the nerves I suspect is going to impact my performance? How do I enhance my belief in myself and my gameplan? How do I stick to my processes and trust them even when under extreme pressure?
What I have also discovered is that cricketers and athletes in general will often try to use an Outside Focused process to solve an internal challenge. For example, as a cricketer I am feeling nervous before a knock-out game so I will go hit 500 extra balls to feel better instead of using some self-coaching techniques to get to the heart of the nerves and either “solve it” or release the extra energy that is not needed.
Method: Phase 1: Your General Recipe.
- Work out all the Outside Focused processes you use before you play well. Review what you did for several good performance and then work out what is common and useful. If you don’t have a specific list of Outside Focused processes start experimenting with what you want to get from them. Eg as a bowler you may want to feel confident in your run up, happy with where you place your leading foot when bowling and feel your body is loose enough to deliver accurately from ball one. Great. Now what do you need to do on any given match day (or the day before) to get what you want. If you don’t know what a particular process provides for you, reflect on the question, “What does doing X – give me?” or “What does hitting 30 balls with throw downs give me before I bat?” Be careful of answering this in a simple/high level way with words like confidence, or feeling good, see if there is more detail there for you. Its important to know both what your specific proceses are and what you want to achieve or receive by doing them.
- Work out the Inside Focus processes that you do and what they give you, or work out what Internal Focused processes you need to discover/find/experiment with based on what you want. As an example of an Inside Focus: I listen to Drake and that helps me feel connected, slightly aggressive and energized. If you don’t have any purposeful Inside Focused Processes think about What you want to feel on the inside and work backwards. As an example I want to feel calm, quiet in my mind, happy and feel I can bat with freedom – great, now what Inside Focus Processes can I learn about research or discover that will give me with that end result? In Raising Talent I provide a series of tools that can assist with Inside Focused Processes – there are many other resources out there, its well worth researching and gaining expertise in this space. Its important to know both what your specific proceses are and what you want to achieve or receive by doing them.
Now that you have worked out your General Recipe, you need to prepare for each individual game, that is where the internal and external challenges come in – what adjustments do you need to make? (If any?)
Phase 2 adjustments for my next game (if any are needed)
- For my next game what are the internal challenges that I can identify – and whatsolutions can I come up with for each and every challenge? It may be that my existing process are effective and wide-ranging enough that I don’t need to adjust anything for many of my challenges. If I do have to add or adjust something, what would that be? The solution also may be as simple as letting go worrying that my body is not 100%. Or letting go of worrying about being less confident batting at 6 then 5 because I haven’t made as many runs at 6 yet.
- For my next game what are the external challenges that I can identify and whatsolutions can I come up with for each and every challenge? If I do have to add or adjust something, as my existing process doesnt prepare me well enough for that challlenge, what would that be? The solution also may be as simple as letting go my fears, or extra nerves and using a self-coaching technique to do that.
To help you practice this technique see if you write down between 5 and 10 challenges you may face in your next game. Then work out solutions for each one of the challenges you have found, and check to see if the solutions you have identified are already part of your process. If they are great – you can take more confidence into the game. If not then work out how the solutions can be included into your process. Practice doing this for several games.
If you had to write this out on a worksheet, the start of that worksheet would look something like this:
Adjustments (If any?)
What I want
What I want
Stretch dynamically and individually for 15 mins
To ensure all major muscles are loose and my body feels flexible and explosive
Detailed movies of my gameplan against different bolwing combined with scanning to remove fears+doubts
To feel ready for whatever can happen tomorrow and my sense of tension and unease I am feeling for the game
Internal: Body is stiff and throwing arm sore
Schedule physio, and get icepack for throwing arm. My existing 15 min stretch will cover the rest of the challenge
|Ask for someone to throw me 30 balls to hit before I bat||I want to feel my legs moving with balance on the inside half and feel the ball on the middle of my bat||20 mins meditation before breakfast||Quieten everything down and dump all extra distractions to get a calm centre||External: Playing in big stadium with morning dew in outfield and “big” opponents.||Spend more time creating multiple movies (with scanning) adding in what it looks and feels like to play well in those detailed conditions.|
If you want to do this for your own game, you can find a copy of a blank worksheet here.
Click here to download it.
If you find that you have finished preparing for a game using this worksheet and you have no external challenges, than it is more then likely that your biggest challenge for the game is eithercomplacency or arrogance. Either is a performance killer. What solutions can you find to make sure that whoever you play, your preparation is about your standards and your purpose and not about them?
It may be the case that you can’t train for a week due to rain yet still need to be ready to be your best for an important game. If this happen work backwards from the “What you Want”column to create Plan B. Ask yourself the question, what else can I do that is within my power to give me what I am looking for in the “What you want” column.
As you develop your self-awareness and experiment you will be getting a better and betterGeneral Recipe. You will also get more skilled at brainstorming and analysis to identify the challenges you may face. Each game is unique and so knowing yourself well and thinking through many possible game scenarios will be important. When you find and hone your solutions for your challenges and include them in your process you will take your game to the next level.
For a great example of how a world class cricketer went about his Dynamic Game Preparation, check out Matthew Hayden’s ESPN interview here
All the best, I look forward to feedback.