Mind over matter
Skysports.com spoke to sports psychologist Amanda Owens on the pressures of the Stanford Series.
Last Updated: 24/10/08 3:13pm
As England head to the West Indies for the Stanford Twenty20 series, Skysports.com caught up with leading sports psychologist Amanda J.N. Owens to discuss how the players can deal with this unique pressure situation.
Twenty20 cricket is pressurized enough already, but throw in a winner-takes-all $20m showdown in Antigua and the stakes get even higher.
A former international GB tennis player, Amanda Owens is a consultant for the ECB and is the sports psychologist for Surrey County Cricket Club and Essex County Cricket Club.
In the past she has also worked with Southampton Football Club and is also involved with GB Olympic and world-class athletes in swimming and athletics.
Mention the word sports psychologist and most people think of positive thinking and visualization. There is a bit more to it than that isn't there?
AMANDA OWENS: It is all about understanding pressure and behavioural patterns and understanding how your mood and emotions affect performance. Tied into that is your perception of yourself and the perception of say something like the Stanford Series and how that impacts your performance.
Sports psychology is all about self awareness and understanding yourself. The more you can understand yourself, the more you can understand how you think; how you feel and how you behave in certain situations. There is a myth that we cannot change our behavioural patterns but we can - the key is understanding.
There is a lot of money involved in the Stanford Series, how will that affect the players' understanding?
AMANDA OWENS: It is going to be very interesting to see how individual players react to this pressure as they have never been in this situation before. Whereas professional footballers have got used to the amount of money and how much each match is worth, this is a totally new scenario for cricket.
England captain Kevin Pietersen was recently interviewed and he made some interesting comments. He is trying to prep the players to make sure they do not put a lot of emphasis on the money and that they use this as preparation for the India tour and of course for the Ashes.
He wants to see pride and passion for playing for the badge and not the money issue. This is a unique situation that England are in and he wants to see how these players perform under pressure.
Should they be approaching this game differently?
AMANDA OWENS: Well, they don't want to change their preparations too much just because of the money involved. It is very important that preparation is right and to make sure that they focus on their strengths and their role within the team.
I think they need to get back to basics. They need to be aware how they react under pressure. The psychological approach here is going to be crucial and they need to make sure that as individuals they know what to do and what is expected of them.
They need to understand each other and there needs to be some boundaries and some rules. If certain individuals do get carried away and lose their focus, well it is up to the rest of the team to pull them back in line and to communicate. So there needs to be confident communication and reminders of what they need to do as well as an inner dialogue.
So the coach and the captain have to be experts at mood and emotional management?
AMANDA OWENS: Yes, well as I said before Pietersen wants to use this as an arena to access player's performance under pressure. He is a fantastic leader and a fantastic captain. I am very impressed with the way he is dealing and communicating with the players at the moment. I think he is probably the best England captain we have had for a very long time.
He is sending out the right messages. Steve Bull the England sports psychologist works very closely with the team. They have been working on stress intervention so these guys are as prepared as they possibly can. When they are out there it is going to be very different, it is going to be something they have never experienced and how do they react? They need to go into this game as grounded as possible and they must not get carried away.
We have a very strong team at the moment who have a lot of belief in themselves. They are very grounded and I think coach Peter Moores has a brilliant management set-up. I work as a consultant for the ECB and I'm involved with Surrey and before that Essex and the amount of support that is available to the players is excellent.
We all know sledging is part of cricket, but with all this money up for grabs can expect the sledging stakes to be raised even higher?
AMANDA OWENS: Oh gosh yes! We have an England team that is at a very exciting stage of their development. They have been performing very well under pressure but as soon as money comes into it, well it does change things. No matter what is said, the money will still mean an awful lot to certain players. Dealing with the sledging, well I think it is going to be extreme. They need to put themselves through as many extreme circumstances as possible.
So what tips would you give England?
AMANDA OWENS: Well there is a technique called the black box that is used before they go out. The aim is to block out all the distractions and use relaxation techniques. They need to get themselves into a calm, collected and focussed state of mind so that they can get rid of any worries or distractions.
There is also a gestalt technique about being in the here and now. Regardless of if you are a bowler, batter or all-rounder you need to be playing in the present. The amounts of distractions going on during the Stanford Series are going to be enormous. The player needs to be focussed. It brings them to the here and now so they do not get distracted by any negative thoughts.
It is also important for them to have a positive dialogue going on. Get into saying lets get out there and enjoy ourselves, stick to the game plan and make this a positive experience.