Mental Toughness 4 – Tough Attitudes and Tough Thinking

Mental toughness is a combination of character and attitudes.  It would be entirely possible to produce a player with tough attitudes, but without the tough character attributes such as resilient self-confidence, and independence, those attitudes would not be applied effectively. With that in mind, let’s continue to look at the insights into tough thinking and tough attitudes that Jones et.al. and Stephen Bull’s research gave us.

What are the components of tough attitudes and tough thinking?

 Tough Attitudes

  • Exploit learning opportunities.  A desire to learn and keep learning was evident.  Defeat was not dwelled upon, but was learned from.
  • Belief in quality preparation.  Players believed that a thorough and consistent preparation is vital.
  • Self-set challenging targets. This ties in with the tough character theme of ‘being competitive with yourself and others’. The ability to set challenging goals for yourself and not beat yourself up if you don’t make them is key.
  • “Never say die” mind-set. Many respondents had had a rocky road to cricket professionalism, however they reported that they had brought out their best performances at exactly the moments when their best was required.

“You can throw whatever stones you want at me but I am not going off this course. I am getting there. I am right here. I will prove to you that I am right. It might take me ten or fifteen years but I will get there. I will play for England.”

 

  • “Go the extra mile” mind-set. Along with the ‘never-say-die’ mind-set, this shows a level of tenacity and a commitment to hard work that delivers a strong desire to succeed.
  • Determination to make the most of their ability. Many of the respondents described themselves as not the most naturally gifted of cricketers.  However their determination to succeed allows them to develop an approach to the game that allowed the to excel.
  • Belief In Making The Difference. Players believed that they alone could make the difference to their team’s outcomes.  Players actively sought out that responsibility in key match situations.

“Taking the responsibility on your shoulders is what it’s all about…and the more responsibility I was given the better I reacted…the tighter the situation the more highly motivated I became. I kind of set the challenges to myself that it was up to me to drag us out of this mess”.

 

  • Thrive on competition. Within the confines of the cricket match they tend to focus on the individual challenges they face rather than on the team competition. Surmounting these individual challenges is what motivates them.
  • Willing to take risks. Not just within a game to take advantage of the situation, but with their entire careers. Players are able to change clubs or counties, or even move half way across the world if they feel it would help their career progression.

Tough thinking

 This is the part that sports psychologists dwell upon, as it focuses on ‘match-winning’ thinking.  However I think you will now agree, that tough thinking is a product of everything that has come before, the environmental factors, the tough character and the tough attitudes.  Tough thinking is about the player’s ability to focus the tough character and the tough attitudes to the task at hand in a competitive setting.

 There are two branches to tough thinking that we need to discuss.

 Robust Self-Confidence

 This has been a recurring theme, throughout our discussion; think back to the theme of ‘resilient confidence’ in the tough character section. In this context it refers to self-confidence in in-game performance thinking. It has three key manifestations.

 

  1. Overcoming self-doubt. Not just normal performance anxiety, but also in the field of international cricket when you do not have the evidence to know you can perform at that level.
  2. Feeding-off physical condition.  Loehr stated that in the final analysis toughness is physical.  Certainly the mind-body connection is a key component of self-confidence.
  3. Maintain self-focus. Not selfishness as such, but getting the balance right between the team’s needs, and being self-focussed.

Thinking clearly

 This is about the ability to stay focussed and clear thinking in the face of duress or adversity.  It is a combination of the following three factors;

  1. Good decision-making. Making the correct decisions with confidence at pivotal moments in the game.
  2. Keeping perspective. This is about striking the balance between expressing an attitude of immense importance attached to the competition, while at the same time knowing that it’s no big deal, and at the end of the day it’s just a game.
  3. Honest self-appraisal.  Knowing exactly where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and making performance decisions based on that appraisal.

Conclusion

 So we have seen what makes mental toughness, how tough character and tough attitudes combine to make tough thinking. In the final piece in this series we will look at how mental toughness can be developed in young cricketers, through the actions of the players themselves, their clubs, coaches, schools and parents.

 

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Bibliography

 

Jones, J.G., Hanton, S., Connaughton, D. (2002) ‘What is This Thing Called Mental Toughness?’ Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 14, 205-218

 

Loehr, J.E. (1995) ‘The New Toughness Training For Sports’. New York Penguin

 

Bull, S.J., Shambrook, C.J., James, W., Brooks, J.E. (2005) ‘Towards an Understanding of Mental Toughness in Elite English Cricketers’ Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 17:209-227

 

 

 

Mental Toughness 3 – What is to be learned?

In this third piece in the series we look at what Stephen Bull’s paper says are the external environmental factors that may affect mental toughness, and the qualities that represent ‘tough character’ itself.

Environment

 As you would expect, the environmental factors play a major role in developing mental toughness.  Parents can have a good or catastrophic influence on their child’s psychological development depending on how they approach the subject.  In this research every respondent noted a contribution from one or both parents to their success. Exactly what parents should and shouldn’t do to help their child develop will be explored in the final piece on mental toughness.

 The toughest players generally came up through an environment that pre-disposed them to be mentally tough, as one respondent noted:

 

The basic thing is, looking at all these names here,” (the list of top 15 toughest players), “one thing that strikingly stands out is their upbringing. I would say they are probably brought up by the school of hard knocks.”

 Given the English set-up’s pre-disposition to selecting the products of safe private-school educated environments, this may go some way towards explaining England’s perceived weakness in producing tough players.

 Surviving Early Set-Backs (Resilience)

 Many of the players in the study had had a far from smooth ride into professional cricket, however all felt that they had learned massively from the set-backs they had had. These experiences can’t be replicated as part of a coaching program of course, but it’s an interesting insight.

 Playing Cricket Abroad

 All the respondents had played cricket abroad (primarily in South Africa and Australia) during their formative years, and all saw it as a vital part of their toughening up process.

 

“I went to a club where people didn’t know who I was and being an Englishman in Australia you’re always going to be looked to, not so much down on, but you have to prove yourself more than an Australian.”

 

Tough Character

 Now we switch to those factors that are inherent in the cricketer him (or her) self. These tough character traits were seen as universal in tough minded individuals, and are more stable than the more easily acquired ‘Tough Attitudes’ traits.

 Independence

 Respondents showed an aptitude and a willingness to take responsibility for their own career and development, as well ploughing an independent furrow in other non-sporting areas of their life.

 

“What you need to do is to go to Perth or Sydney, anywhere where you’re on your own with no Mom or Dad to look after you.  You’ve got to look after yourself, you’ve got to present yourself to the team you play for and show them what you can do. You’re either sink or swim. You’ll get up and mature, stand up for yourself, think things out for yourself, and work things out on your own.”

 

Self Reflection

 Tough-minded cricketers show a marked ability for self-reflection and self- analysis.  This constant honest re-evaluation of themselves and their performance is seen as critical to their performance and continues throughout their careers.

 Competitiveness With Self and Others

 Tough cricketers have a desire to be the best cricketers they can be. Though players did not necessarily set formal goals, they used competition with other players as well as this desire to be the best to push their development.

 “I want to play against the best bowlers – I want to play against the best – that’s the challenge for me.”

 Resilient Self-Confidence

 Self-confidence alone is not enough to be a mentally tough cricketer. Some players have high levels of self-confidence, but that confidence can be a very fragile thing. Mentally tough cricketers believe they can influence the outcome of every match they play, their confidence is high, and is very hard to undermine.

 This suggests that a key to building self confidence in young cricketers is not so much “how high can we build this player’s confidence?”, but rather “how can we protect the confidence that is already there?”.

 In the next piece we will be looking at those qualities that are a direct result of mental toughness, ‘Tough Attitudes’ and ‘Tough Thinking’.

 

 

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Mental Toughness 2 – The Cricket-Specific Mental Toughness Framework

So having a working definition of mental toughness, and some insights into its genesis, how does mental toughness apply in cricket?  In 2003 the E.C.B.’s Sport Psychology Support Team under the leadership of Stephen J. Bull set out to answer two questions;

1. To develop a deeper understanding of what mental toughness is within cricket.

2. To identify how existing mentally tough cricketers developed their mental toughness.

The research team asked 101 English cricket coaches to name the ten English cricketers they considered to be the mentally toughest of the previous twenty years.  From the resultant list, a total of fifteen of the most mentally tough cricketers were selected for the research.

The methodology used was very similar to that of Jones et al featured in the previous piece. This was another qualitative study, using a mixture of one-on-one interviews and group brainstorming sessions.

I’ll spare you a detailed breakdown of their results, because if you need them you can download the paper for free – here.

What is important to us is the Mental Toughness framework, that they developed based upon their research, which you will notice bears close similarity to the results of Jones et al’s  outcomes.

The framework develops five ‘General Dimensions’, twenty ‘Global Themes’ and four Structural categories.

Here is my reproduction of the framework

Global Dimension Global Theme Structural Category
Development factors Parental influence Environmental influence
Childhood background Environmental influence
Personal responsibility Exposure to foreign cricket Environmental influence
Independence Tough character
Self-reflection Tough character
Competitiveness with self as well as with others Tough character
Exploit learning opportunities Tough attitudes
Belief in quality preparation Tough attitudes
Self-set challenge targets Tough attitudes
Dedication and commitment Opportunities to survive early setbacks Environmental influence
Needing to “earn” success Environmental influence
“Never say die” mind-set Tough attitudes
“Go the extra mile” mind-set Tough attitudes
Determination to make the most of ability Tough attitudes
Belief Resilient confidence Tough thinking
Belief in making the difference Tough attitudes
Robust self-confidence – overcoming self-doubt/feeding off physical condition/maintain self-focus Tough thinking
Coping with pressure Thrive on competition Tough attitudes
Willing to take risks Tough attitudes
Thinking clearly – good decision making/keeping perspective/honest self-appraisal Tough thinking

‘The Mental Toughness Framework’ from Stephen J. Bull et al 2004

This framework is not in itself revolutionary, however it is unique in that it gives a cricket-specific explanation of the development of mental toughness, and it also gives us new insights into how those factors interrelate.

I will discuss the consequences of the framework in the next piece.

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Bibliography

Towards an Understanding of Mental Toughness in Elite English Cricketers, Stephen J. Bull, Christopher J. Shambrook, Wil James, Jocelyne E. Brooks. Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 17:209-227, 2005

How To Win The Toss

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The Belgian One Euro Coin – The Smart Captain’s Friend

The other day I accidentally caught a few seconds of one of those tedious phone-in political discussion shows on the radio.  The discussion was obviously about the economy, because I heard the caller say;

“Chancellor’s of the exchequer are like cricket captains, you are better off with a lucky one than a good one.”

 Or words to that effect. This set me thinking, what elements of luck are there in a captain’s cricketing career and how can a skipper be judged by his or her luck?

The first element of luck in cricket must surely be the coin toss.

I had always presumed that there was a 50-50 chance of a coin landing on ‘Tails’, which is why, in my short career as captain I adopted the ‘tails never fails’ philosophy, which, as it turned out failed about half the time.  However recent Canadian research shows that coin tosses are anything but random, and that the 50-50 outcomes are a myth.

Matthew Clark and Dr. Brian Westerberg at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, asked thirteen medical students to flip a coin 300 times and try to influence the way it landed, cash prizes were awarded to the students who could make the coin land on ‘Heads’ most often. After just two minutes’ practice, the students could make the coin land on the side they wanted 54% of the time. One of the participants achieved heads a startling 68% of the time.

The simplest method of toss manipulation (and the one most relevant to cricket) is simply to note which side of the coin that is uppermost before it is flipped, as this side is 57% more likely to land facing upwards, they found. This is because discs do not spin symmetrically in flight.

But by far the biggest influence on which side the coin lands is the height, the angle of launch and the catch. By practicing to gain consistency, the tosser can have a significant affect on the outcome up to a 68% success rate.

Other studies have suggested that a Belgian €1 coin is significantly heavier on one side of the coin than the other which in theory would give more heads than tails.  However Clark and Westerberg demonstrated that this effect was no more pronounced than on the more routine cheating manipulation demonstrated here.

“The findings of my research show, to statistical significance, that it is easy to manipulate the toss of a coin”, said Clark.

This suggests that when Nasser Hussein lost the toss on fourteen consecutive occasions (16384 to 1, if you are interested), rather than being unlucky he was just not practicing enough.

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Bibliography

 

1. How random is the toss of a coin?

Matthew P.A. Clark, MBBS and Brian D. Westerberg, MD

From St. Paul’s Rotary Hearing Clinic, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC2789164//reload=0;jsessionid=q2o0qzaK5bcjsPYgpwDY.20

 

2. Murray DB, Teare SW. Probability of a tossed coin falling on its edge. Phys Rev E Stat Phys Plasmas Fluids Relat Interdiscip Topics. 1993;48:2547–52. [PubMed]

 

3. Diaconis P, Homes S, Montgomery R. Dynamical bias in the coin toss. SIAM Rev. 2007;49:211–35.

 

4. MacKenzie D. Euro coin accused of unfair flipping. New Sci. 2002. Jan 4, [(accessed 2009 Oct. 22)]. Available: www.newscientist.com/article/dn1748-euro-coin-accused-of-unfair-flipping.html.

 

5. Denny C, Dennis S. Heads, Belgium wins — and wins. The Guardian; [UK]: 2002. Jan 4, [(accessed 2009 Oct. 22)]. Available: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/jan/04/euro.eu2.

 

6. Kosnitzky G. Murphy’s Magic Supplies. Rancho Cordova (CA): 2006. Heads or tails; p. 6.

Cricket Moneyball 1 – Assessing Bowling

Do you recognize this situation?

You are a decent pace bowler; you open the bowling for your club, or perhaps come on first change. Today your team is playing against quality opposition, proper batsmen who don’t give their wicket away too easily, although rumor has it that they have a fairly long tail. Bowling well and working hard, you eventually pick up three wickets for twenty-three runs off eight overs (8 – 0 – 23 – 3) and the oppo are 103 for 6 off 24 overs.  So you are feeling quite pleased with yourself as you take a well-earned blow down on the fine-leg boundary.

But what’s this?

Sensing that the opposition batting lacks depth, the captain brings himself and his best mate on at the fall of the seventh wicket, and they proceed to clean up the tail-enders, with skipper skittling 9, 10 and 11 in four overs and finishing up with better figures than you at with 4 – 0 – 19 – 3.

“No fair”, you find yourself thinking, as you trudge disconsolately back to the pavilion, watching the team’s coterie of brown-noses slapping the captain on the back.

Well, fear not, change is at hand, Professor Hermanus H. Lemmer of the Department of Statistics, at the University of Johannesburg feels your pain.

Supposing we could find a way to attach a weight to the wickets taken depending on where the batsman was in the batting order? If we could do that a bowler would get more statistical credit for taking out Hashim Amla than Monty Panesar, and that can only be a good thing, (sorry Monty).

Professor Lemmer has done just that by producing a weighting for every position in every form of cricket – multi-day, 50 over and Twenty/20.

Here for example is the scale for 50 over games

Batting position Weight
1 1.30
2 1.35
3 1.40
4 1.45
5 1.38
6 1.18
7 0.98
8 0.79
9 0.59
10 0.39
11 0.19
Total 11.00

Yes, I’m afraid it still adds up to 11, you won’t be able to claim points for non-existent batsmen.

So for clarification Lemmer’s statistical analysis has shown that number 7 batsmen score on average 0.98/11ths of all runs scored in 50 over games, number 11 batsmen (i.e. people like me) have scored just 0.19/11ths.  So this scale gives a bowler seven times as much credit for taking out a number 3 or 4 batsman than a rabbit at 11.

So how to put this table to practical use?  Lemmer has designed the Combines Bowling Rate (CBR*) as a new measure of bowling performance, CBR* is calculated with the following formula.

CBR* = 3R/(W*+O+W*xR/B)

Where  R = runs conceded

W*= sum of weights of the batsmen out

O = overs bowled

B = balls bowled

So let’s apply the traditional AVE system and Lemmer’s CBR* methodology to our mythical situation and see what happens.

The Average (AVE) for you (Mr. Excellent Bowler) is 23/3 = 7.66

Whereas Mr. Meally-Mouthed skipper gets an average of 19/3 = 6.33

Plainly unfair.

Now imagine you had taken out batsmen 1, 3 and 5, so calculating CBR* using the formula above, the outcome for Mr. Excellent is now 4.92looks better already doesn’t it? And  the CBR* for the Skipper, (who took out 9, 10, and 11 remember) is now 9.5.

As with AVE the lower the figure for CBR* the better, so now justice has been seen to be done. Despite the fact that Skip picked up the same number of wickets in only half the overs bowled, your figures are convincingly better because you took out the quality batsmen.

Some bowlers will come out of this very well, when Professor Lemmer applied his CBR* rankings to the first Twenty/20 World Cup, Jimmy Anderson’s ranking improved from 28th to 22nd due to the high number of lower order batsmen he gets out, whereas Umar Gul slipped from 2nd to 5th for the opposite reason.

All we need now is someone to design an iPhone app to calculate CBR* and good bowlers everywhere will be happy.

Anyone?