In recent times, a misinterpretation of the concept
of competition has had an adverse effect on
sports-personalities. It has made it difficult for
them to perform to their peak, and this in turn has
denied them the thrill that is experienced when one
performs to one's optimum.
This is as true for the world-class sportsperson as
it is for a beginner and all the levels in between.
There is a deep association between peak
performance, the ability to execute fluid, graceful
and bio-mechanically sound movements while playing
the sport and a cool, meditative mind. Admittedly,
it is not easy to silence the inner voice that is
constantly instructing, judging and invariably
castigating oneself. However, by increasing one's
awareness of what is happening within us as we
play, we can greatly improve our game and in a way,
transform our entire experience of playing the
sport. Frustration, disappointment and anger can be
replaced by an overwhelming feeling of contentment.
This will enable us to grow as sportspersons as
well as individuals.
While in Karachi, Pakistan with the India Veterans
cricket team in March 1988, I chanced upon a book
at the Holiday Inn Bookshop. Its title was "The
Inner Game of Golf". Since I had just begun playing
Golf, I found the title interesting and bought it.
It turned out to be a fascinating treatise and is
one of my most precious possessions.
The principles elucidated in the book need not be
confined to Golf. In fact, they can easily be
applied to cricket. Cricket and Golf have a lot in
common. Both sports involve tension and at times,
mental anguish. Both have the uncanny ability to
expose weakness of mind and character, no matter
how well the player may try to conceal both! On the
cricket ground and golf course, the player is often
confronted with the same obstacles that impair
one's ability to learn, perform and enjoy life.
I read the book from cover to cover, and used
myself as a guinea-pig of sorts. Subsequently, I
applied the principles mentioned in the book to my
students. The results, to put it simply, were
amazing. Not only did the game of the boys improve,
but their enjoyment of the sport also increased.
The author states; "If I always want an experience
in life, I should first search for a constant
source of experience." I found it while playing
cricket and later golf. And so will you in your
chosen field. But you should always be looking
around, and remain fully 'conscious'!
If human beings did not have a tendency to
interfere with their abilities to perform and
learn, there would be no "inner game" within the
individual. But the fact is that because of
persistent self-interference, very few of us are
able to perform to our potential on a consistent
basis. Learning to 'get out of your own way' and
'leave yourself alone' can be useful from time to
time. All great achievers do so. This can help you
improve your "inner game skills", and enable you to
overcome tension, self-doubt, fear of failure,
anxiety and a limiting self-image.
In cricket, as in any other sport, it is important
to be 'controlled'. The bowler has to maintain a
tight and accurate line, the batsman should avoid
playing rash shots, and every player has to
'control' his emotions and stay focused while the
game is on.
Telling ourselves repeatedly to 'control' all these
is not the most effective way to improve
performance. The quality of my coaching and the
learning of my students improved when I gave least
instructions. I realised that over-instruction has
a disrupting influence. Sometimes, I tell my
students to forget everything they think they know
and just go and hit the ball. Unable to forget
anything they know very well, they only forget what
they think they know, and their quality of their
game improves by leaps and bounds! It becomes more
natural and spontaneous.
The prime causes of errors in cricket are mental
more than physical or technical. Indeed, there have
been several players with unconventional batting or
bowling techniques who attained legendary status
despite their 'game' not conforming strictly to
what was written in the coaching manual. An
attribute that they all possessed was a sound
temperament. Their success proved that cricket is
played more between the ears than on the ground.
I have observed time and again that the removal of
a single self-doubt has resulted in numerous
technical improvements in the player's strokeplay
and overall game.
Dear reader, do not put pressure on yourself, do
not burden yourself with negative thoughts. Learn
to enjoy yourself. The results are guaranteed. Take
it from someone who knows!