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Archive for April, 2008

This is the last post in my series Introduction to Batting in Cricket: Mechanics, Visual Strategy and Psychology.

We saw in my previous post that a major problem for batsmen is internal distractibility – at the critical moment, when the ball is released, unwanted thoughts drift into your head, reducing your reaction time and diverting your attention. We also saw the solution, as Griffiths puts it:

“if you are going to be distracted, the distraction may as we be something which is deliberate and under your control.”

Thus, we develop a routine: a standard set of things to do and things to say to yourself before every ball. It doesn’t have to fill in all the time between one ball and the next – there is time for your thoughts to wander and relax. But there is a specific time where you say “this is the moment when I start to get ready for the next ball”. From that moment, every movement and every thought should be planned, controlled and rehearsed.

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My last post outlined the four attentional styles: broad external, narrow external, broad internal, narrow internal. I also stressed that each of us has a preferred style, which we will revert to when we have a choice or when under pressure.

Let me make a prediction – your preferred style is internal, either narrow or broad. How do I know this? Because you’re reading a “science-themed blog”! You obviously enjoy thinking about things, and spend idle moments wrapped up in your own thoughts rather than looking around you for entertainment. I certainly do.

(I must give a warning before I move on: Griffiths repeatedly stresses that there is no “one-size-fits-all” mental strategy in sports. I am largely applying the techniques of Griffiths’ book to myself, as an internal attender. Don’t assume that everyone needs to do what I do.)

Let me begin with a surprising statement: in many sporting contexts, conscious thought inhibits performance. Griffiths calls it paralysis by analysis, saying:

“… analysing during the execution of a stroke or while you are bowling a ball is highly detrimental to performance … The well-meaning supporter who yells out ‘think about it’ every time someone in the team makes any sort of error should be given a ticket to the races whenever an important game is on!”

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We learned in my last post that the batsman’s task is to concentrate on watching the ball right out of the bowler’s fingers, to pick up the length as soon as possible in order to make the forward vs. backward decision. But how do you direct and control your concentration?

Recall our definition of concentration: “What you attend to.” I’ll begin by presenting the concentration model found in Griffiths. We can categorise a person’s attention at any particular time in the following broad types:

  • Internal vs. External – is your conscious mind busy with recalling, creating and/or processing thoughts (internal) or with the information entering though the 5 senses (external)? [the direction of your attention]
  • Broad vs. Narrow: How many things are you focussing on at the moment? [the width of your attention]

Thus, we have four types of concentration:

  • Broad External: e.g. driving a car.
  • Narrow External: A surgeon performing heart surgery.
  • Broad Internal: Planning a party.
  • Narrow Internal: Doing a maths exam.

The important thing about these styles is that individually they are not right or wrong. They are simply appropriate or inappropriate in any given situation.

Everyone has his or her own natural style. At a football match, narrow attenders will often only watch the ball, while broad attenders will take in the whole scene. Each will see things that the other misses. Importantly, while we are each capable of each style, under intense pressure, we will tend to revert to our preferred style.

Returning to batting, we can isolate the required style of concentration quite easily: narrow external. You need to divert all your brain’s resources to your eyes, focusing to the exclusion of all else on the ball as it emerges from the bowler’s fingers.

We can also identify the mental challenges of batting and maintaining concentration. They are directly related to the wrong attentional styles at the moment of the ball’s release:

1.) The problem of external distractions. These will place the batsman in a broad external attention style at the wrong time. The batsman’s attention is divided between the ball and, say, someone walking behind the bowler. Or the batsman’s is focused around the ball, rather than directly on it. Either way, the batsman fails to gather all the information available about the ball’s flight, and misjudgement is more likely.

2.) The problem of internal distractions, drawing the batsman into his own thoughts at the wrong moment.

I will be looking at internal distractions in more detail in my next post. I will finish this post with a few thoughts on external distractions.

Griffiths notes that, just before the ball is released, the batsman should use a broad external attention style to watch the bowler’s body for clues as to what he is about to bowl. As an example, Griffiths tells of a wicketkeeper who could predict when a leg-spin bowler would spin the ball a certain way (the wrong-un) by the way he raised his left knee just before delivery. Thus, the skill is to flick quickly from broad external to narrow external at the point of delivery. The technique I outline in the next post will tell you how.

Introduction to Batting in Cricket: Mechanics, Visual Strategy and Psychology
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