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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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’.