Thursday, April 11, 2019

It's all in the mind

I recall my early association with the sport of Cricket was when i followws Cricket world cup for the first time. The year was 1987. It was a special world cup given that India were the defending champions for the first time and the tournament was being hosted outside England for the first time, with India being one of the hosts.

Recently, I reminisced about one of the memories from that world cup. It was the world cup finals

being hosted at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. England were chasing the score set by Australia. At one stage, England looked all set and cruising towards victory. With 2 or so wickets down for a healthy score and their captain, Mike Gatting was on crease.

While facing left-arm spin from Allan Border, Mike attempted a reverse sweep shot. In 1987, cricket wasn't as commercialized as it is currently. I remember this world-cup was played in traditional white clothes (probably the last one in non-colored clothing) and also recall one of the sponsors of India's captain Kapil Dev were offering him INR 500 for every four he hit and probably INR 1000 for every six, quite meager considering today's lofty standards.
The fancy shots weren't quite a part of the game and the game did have a lot of traditional touch. In such a scenario, playing a shot like reverse sweep was considered as nothing short of a luxury. As luck would have it, Mike Gatting couldn't connect the ball as well and was caught out. England eventually lost the world cup finals by 7 runs and Mike was heavily criticized for playing an irresponsible shot.

Fast forward to 2019 and focusing our attention on a different sport. In the recently concluded Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament, South Korean captain Lee Nam Young scored the goal with this unbelievable shot that went right over goalkeeper's head . This was during the finals of the event and during the penalty shootout.

Comparing these 2 situations:
1. The pressure to perform (being finals of a major tournament) was almost the same.
2. Both captains attempted outrageous shots at a crucial junctures during the finals.
3. One succeeded, Other failed.
How does one explain such disparate results in almost similar pressure situation while trying an out-of-the box shot ?
The quest to find answer to this intriguing question took me to Prakash Iyer's book- "The Habit of Winning". Prakash narrated a story about India batsman Robin Uthappa in a match against England
in 2007. While chasing England's score of 316, India needed 10 runs in the last over and had just 2 wickets in hand. After taking 2 singles in the first 2 balls, the equation read- 8 runs needed off 4 balls. At this stage, Robin produced a risky looking scoop shot that sent the ball over wicketkeeper's head for 4. India eventually won that match.
Post the match, Robin was asked what was going through his mind when he decided to play that shot. Didn't he think that if he had missed it, he would have been heavily criticized (like Mike Gatting was).
Robin's response was simple- 'I never thought I'd miss'

Attempting to put all the learnings together:

1. We eventually become what we visualize ourselves to be

I strongly believe that every event that occurs in our lives happens 2 times- one in our head, and then in reality. If i need to reverse engineer the events in the blog, I can hypothesize that Mike Gatting was tentative in visualizing the outcome, whereas Lee Nam Young and Robin Uthappa played out perfect movies in their head before executing those outrageous shots. Now, i know that i am speculating here but i am confident that you get the point here. How well you visualize does make a difference to the eventual outcome.

B.P. Ram validates this thinking in his book- 'Winning Habits Techniques for Excellence in Sports' quotes Jack Nicklaus, the champion golfer from his book "Golf My Way", how he used the techniques of visualization. He writes:

"I never hit shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, In-focus picture of it my head. It's like a colour movie. First I "see" the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I "see" tne ball going there, its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there is sort of a fade out. And the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.Then he adds the tip, Just make sure your movies show a perfect shot. We don't want any horror films of shots flying into sand or water on out of bounds.'

2. Fear of failure defeats well-laid plans:

In high risk situations (or even otherwise), the quality of your outcome also depends upon the nature of thoughts you feed in your mind.

Prakash Iyer further explains Robin Uthappa's case in the said book where he shares-
The difference between successful people and failures is rather simple. Those who succeed recall past successes and wins. And those you fail remember only misses and failures. And, as its often said, it's all in the mind.

The last line says it all- 'Its all in the mind'. You could get trained by best skill masters in the world but if on the day of performance you choose to let defeatist thoughts dominate your mind, then no coaching intervention can help you.

3. People who succeed embrace risk-taking:

For all the bashing Mike Gatting received here as well as post that shot in 1987, I would have to admin one thing that I admire about him, he was a risk taker. Unlike Lee Nam Young and Robin Uthappa, his risk didn't pay-off that day but he did achieve great heights in his cricketing career by becoming a captain of a national side.

Update on 12th-Apr:
Grateful that Prakash Iyer read this article and shared this wonderful summary on twitter

Interesting read. Two lessons I think. 1. Champions visualise success - in their minds, before the actual event. And 2. Champions know they may not always win, but they don’t let the fear of failure come in the way. They just do it!

Images Source/Acknowledgement: (Azlan Shah Cup video source),204,203,200_.jpg

No comments: