Winning the inner game
On Thursday, the West Indies cricket team will do battle against Australia in the second Test Match in Tasmania. After one of its worst defeats ever by Australia, people's expectations have plummeted and the team's confidence and self-belief must be at a new low. Each time we lose, we say that things can't get any worse. But, we are always proven wrong. Why is the team trapped in this vicious and embarrassing failure spiral? And why can't the experts in charge find a solution to stop this nosedive? One might say that there is disharmony in the team but there must be more to these poor performances than that.
Can the team do better in Tasmania? I believe it can because there are a lot of players in the team with genuine potential. We are just not seeing it. In fact, we haven't seen it for a while. What is holding it back?
The ancient Greeks were lovers of sport and their poets and philosophers were always fascinated by what performances revealed about the players. The poet Pindar noted that discipline, dedication, confidence and character helped players to persevere and do well. Others like Plato and Pythagoras, on the other hand, noted that confusion, fear, poor thinking, poor concentration and lack of confidence led to failure. These ancient scholars recognized that the game most responsible for success during the heat of battle is the one that is played in the head. Over the years that fundamental has not changed.
Cricket is two games. There is an outer or public game and an inner or private game. The outer game is the one that everyone can see - fitness, mechanics, technique, score etc. The inner game is subtle and cannot be seen because it is played in the mind. Unfortunately, many coaches and players are not even aware of its existence. But, it is probably more important than all the skills in the public game. This is particularly true at the highest levels of sport where there is not any great difference in the skills of players on the two teams. No matter how much talent you have you won't play a good outer game if you don't have a good inner game.
The objectives of the inner game vary from player to player and are usually very different from those of the outer game. To play a good inner game you must manage your thinking, concentration and emotions well, and you must know why you play the game, why you choose to play the way you do, how you approach and deal with problems and challenges, how you make decisions, how you manage yourself, and how you manage and control your game. In the past, West Indian professionals who played in England did well with their outer game. But, it was mastery of the inner game that took them to stardom.
Coaches who haven't played cricket at first-class or Test level often find it very difficult to come to terms with the inner game, or teach it properly. It is often their Achilles' heel. The people in charge of our team must now look at what they are doing and ask themselves if they are not playing the wrong game. There is much more to success than fitness and biomechanics, especially when your opponents can match you in those areas.
Some experts in performance say that performance = potential minus interference. The left side of the equation is about the outer game - score, biomechanics, fitness, etc. This is where some coaches mistakenly focus all of their attention. The right side of the equation, potential minus interference, is about the inner game - what we think, feel and concentrate on. It is a game of constant interplay between our thoughts and feelings, and our ambitions and fears. As I said before, many of us are unaware of this game and yet we play it all the time. Few of us have mastered it because most of us have ignored it. The interplay between potential and interference is very important.
Supporters are becoming impatient with the captain and the players and are giving the coaches notice that their honeymoon period is over.
Rudi Webster is best known as the sports psychologist who has influenced the careers of such players as Viv Richards, Greg Chappell, Brian Lara and a host of champions from other sports. He was the manager of the West Indian cricket team during World Series Cricket.