Adam Wilson 'What's the difference'


20 December, 2011
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Allow me to set the scene. As league cricketers we’ve all been there, watching a standard of cricket that’s slightly higher than our own, wondering “what’s the difference between me and that player?” “Why’ve they progressed yet I haven’t?” “How can I get to the next level?” Well perhaps the answer lies within psychology.

Within cricket there is a need to highlight psychological traits that distinguish performers at the height of the sport from those at the subsequent levels. Having considered that physical capabilities become more even at higher levels1, sport psychology strives to predict performance based on personality and psychological attributes2. Evidence suggests that such attributes significantly contribute to sports performance3,4,5 with it becoming widely acknowledged that at least 40 to 90% of success within contemporary sport is as a result of mental factors6.

It has been proposed that psychological traits are important predictors of success7, with the winner invariably being the athlete who is the strongest mentally on a given day7. Considering this, the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) now integrate mental skills training into their practical sessions in hope of building a winning environment8. And we can all see how effective that has been!

Top-level sport is characterised by ‘a demand to excel at optimal levels while performing under conditions that are considered extremely demanding’9, suggesting that elite cricketers possess numerous psychological traits that stand them apart from you and I10. But which traits are these?

Through comparing elite, sub-elite and non-elite English cricketers levels of mental toughness, coping strategies and motivation, I hoped to highlight a profile of elite cricket performance, thus allowing members of the LCA to become aware of what was required to progress in the game. In addition, I hoped to educate elite performers of their strengths and weaknesses, and the need to develop/maintain these if they wish to remain at the top level for a prolonged period.

In doing so, I identified a psychological trait that may be associated with superior/inferior cricket performance; constancy. The construct encompasses a cricketer’s capacity to concentrate and ability to show grit and determination2. The concept reflects an association between successful players tendency to keep a task oriented focus, whilst avoiding a preoccupation with negative outcomes. This suggests that non-elite cricketers may be more likely than elite and sub-elite players to become preoccupied with negative outcomes. Considering that preoccupations have been linked to decreased effort levels and/or quitting6, this implies that non-elite cricketers may have not progressed due to them not applying as much effort as their superior counterparts. Considering this, non-elite players and their coaches should be encouraged to highlight the positive outcomes that accompany performances, as well as using a task oriented focus.

Athlete’s scoring high in constancy have been found to maintain their focus when faced with provocation, or ‘sledging’ as you and I know it. Having considered my findings, it appears that cricketers at higher levels may be better able to deal with ‘sledging’ than non-elite players, suggesting that cricketers must be willing to engage in the ‘high intensity confrontation between batter and bowler’ if they are to reach elite levels2. Furthermore, it suggests that cricketers may require ‘chronic’ mental toughness if they are to reach the top level and remain there11.

In regards to motivation, I discovered a trend in reference to external regulation. Sub-elite cricketers scored higher than elite and non-elite players on this measure, suggesting that sub-elite cricketers are perhaps more motivated to participate by rewards and/or to satisfy an external demand (e.g., a coach). As a result, it may be assumed that although cricketers did not differ significantly on measures of internal motivation, elite cricketers may have higher levels of self-determined motivation that accounts for their increased success.

Reasons for such differences may be that elite athletes spend a greater period of time performing their sport, meaning that they are likely to experience more periods of distress from slumps in form for example. It is unlikely that athletes could remain highly motivated throughout the course of a career and such hardships without high levels of intrinsic motivation6,12. Having considered the heavy workload placed on professional cricketers within the modern game, it seems likely that the inherent pleasure gained from participating is an important criterion in distinguishing between cricketers. This supports suggestions that intrinsic motivators are necessary for developing expertise13.

 

The current findings are in contrast to past work that suggests successful athletes use increased levels of introjected and external regulation14. This may not have been the case within this study considering cricket’s format and salary for example. The sport demands excessive amounts of time and effort, suggesting that elite players may have progressed due to the inherent pleasure they gain from participating i.e., they practice for pleasure and in doing so improve more/quicker than other cricketers. This is in line with past research that proposes performers with high levels of self determined motivation are more successful15. In contrast, sub-elite cricketers may perceive the external rewards that accompany participation as not great enough for what they put in, resulting in them falling behind elite cricketers due them being less motivated to practice etc. The implications of this are that sub-elite cricketers may need to be made aware of the external rewards that await them should they progress to an elite level e.g., sponsorships, increased salary.

Within my study, no significant differences were found between performance levels and the coping strategies that cricketers employed. This suggests that the level a player reaches may not vary as a function of coping strategies. As to why no differences were found however, it may be that rather than elite, sub-elite and non-elite cricketers not differing at all, they did not vary in terms of the scenario used within the present study, which was a slump in form.

So what does all this mean for you? Well it is hoped that through highlighting the importance of constancy in particular, you will become aware of how important the attribute may be if you wish to progress. Furthermore, the suggestions highlighted may be particularly useful for coaches hoping to develop the next batch of young cricket hopefuls. Perhaps, with a little bit of extra work in these particular areas, 2012 can be the season where your performances go from strength to strength.

For further information or a copy of the full paper contact Adam Wilson at

willow1988@hotmail.co.uk

 

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