I’ve always been a battler. In 8 years as a contracted cricketer, I only played 22 games, with a small handful of them batting or bowling in an important position. Yet somehow, the passion to keep working to finally ‘crack it’ never faltered. Whether it was training as much as possible, studying the latest fitness trends, or spending thousands of hours reading or listening to everything related to the mental side of sport.

My efforts certainly had a positive impact. In 2017-18 I ran the drinks in every game in the season and had very poor numbers in grade cricket. In 2018-19 I played every WNCL game, made my WBBL debut and finished the season as the top wicket-taker, and 50 over champion player in the Perth grade competition. I was feeling pretty good with where I was, but still wanted more and spent the offseason planning how to continue the search for the 2019-20 season.

This all came to a crashing halt when I received a phone call from the WACA exactly 12 months ago. I barely remember what was said, something along the lines of “we are not going to renew your contract…your coach will be in contact if you have questions… the ACA will be in contact to help transitioning out of the system…” To be honest it is still all a blur, I was in shock. Luckily, I was with my dad at the time and sunk into his arms and cried.

Bhavi bowling in the WACA grade competition

The tears didn’t stop there, you really don’t realise what you’ve got until it is gone. The next few months were some of the toughest of my life. I’d been going to the WACA for preseason for 13 years, most of my best mates were there and it felt like a second home. It was hard to see what a path forward looked like. ‘Should I move states? How do I train at the level required on my own? Do I even want to get back to that level? Maybe I should just move on to other things? What do these ‘other things,’ even look like?’

I decided to push harder, to do more, to ‘prove everyone wrong.’ I remember being on my way to the golf course when I was listening to a podcast interview with Michael Gervais, one of the leading sports psychologists in the world. He said, “We think we need to do more to be more, but in fact, it is the opposite, we need to be more to do more.”

I’d love to say this was the light bulb moment, the penny dropped, and my career path changed in an instant. However, my actual thoughts were ‘sounds insightful, but I have no idea what the f*ck that actually means.’ As usual, I continued listening, searching for another piece of gold as things went in one ear and out the other. Next thing you know I’m on the golf course searching for my 4th lost ball.

Little did I know, that simple sentence would summarise everything I was doing wrong at the time and pave a clear path on how to shift into not only getting the results I so desperately wanted, but also be a happier, healthier human.

Fear vs Opportunity

The position I had found myself in is not uncommon at all. In fact, it is the result of the same thought process I now see in many of my teammates and in the athletes I mentor. The need to do more is not necessarily a bad thing, growth is a critical part of managing our well-being. The difference is whether it comes from a place of fear or from a place of opportunity. 

There are three important parts of being a human that lead to our ability to get after our goals with a positive state of mind:

  1. The need to be part of a tribe: We all have the basic need to feel a sense of belonging in our community. We want to feel loved, be accepted and have purpose in how we contribute to the people around us.
  2. An inherent negative bias: We are wired to constantly be searching for threats to the needs stated above. This was useful back in the day when we were entirely dependent on our tribe to gather food and ideally protect us from a tiger lurking in the background. However, this natural fear response is mostly irrelevant today.
  3. We live through storytelling: In a range of MRI brain scans, our brains completely light up when connecting through stories compared to facts and figures. Our perception of who we are is entirely based on the stories we tell ourselves. Our personal narrative is filtered by our beliefs, attitudes and values.

According to researcher Brenè Brown, when we enter a new environment, we tell ourselves one of two stories – either we are enough, or not enough. This inherent negative bias causes us to lean towards the side of not being enough as we are, so we go searching for it in external success.

Along with suffering from FOMO, we are then driven by FOPO – Fear Of People’s Opinions. Constantly worrying about what others are thinking leads to performance anxiety, inconsistent performance and ultimately poor well-being. If we don’t have a strong concept and belief in who we are, we go looking for it in others and therefore allow them to write our story for us.  

Bhavi mentoring a female grade cricketer

In my case, I was telling myself a few different stories that revolved around the idea that ‘I spend so much of my time in cricket, I am not performing and in the team regularly, therefore I am not a valuable person and need to be better to prove myself to everyone else.’

Over the years I had stopped playing for the love of the game. Instead, I got caught up in FOPO, always conscious of what the coaches and my teammates were thinking and relief being the primary emotion every time I did find a way to perform well.

This is typical of a perfectionist mindset which is extremely common in high-performance environments where we are constantly praised for performance and suffer consequences for not performing. Brenè Brown states that “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance. Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’ Perfectionism is a hustle…a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.”

A shift in perspective

Shortly after losing my contract, I had a coffee with our coach Lisa Keightley to get some feedback. She felt that I had the skills, however, I was always searching for the next level and needed to find a way to trust myself. She thought a new environment might help me do that and I needed space to find what that was. At the time I was so confused, however 12 months later I finally understand what she was saying, and to her credit she was certainly on the right track.

What I needed was a shift in perspective to live from the inside out, rather than the outside in. To know that I am enough as I am, and then go after my goals with no expectations. To simply enjoy the contest and see what happens.

Losing my contract created the perfect catalyst to begin this journey. A few of the important shifts included:

A shift from trying to please everyone around me to leaning into the key relationships where I knew I could be myself.

In this case, my family were exceptional, I’m forever grateful to have them as a rock that provide unconditional love and support. In addition, I was lucky enough to train at Revolution Sports in Shenton Park with my long-time PT John Stoykovski and with renowned coach Noddy Holder. More so than the batting, it was the conversations I had with Noddy that set the base for everything that was to come. Before hitting a single ball, he already identified that I needed to find my spark again, and the only way to do this is to get out of the habit of playing for others. Instead of praising good numbers, he would respond with “well done, being rewarded for being Bhavi.”

A shift from identifying myself as a cricketer, to a person that plays cricket.

Doing my Cert IV in Athlete Wellbeing Management in June last year could not have come at a better time. Through the course we took the time to assess our life story, values and strengths as a person. An insight gained here is that everyone has a story that is full of imperfections. We achieve deep connection through these stories; therefore, it is actually our imperfections that connect us the most.   

Playing for Malahide CC in Dublin

A shift from striving for the next level, to striving to have the greatest impact on where I am.

There is a common Zen saying, ‘be where your feet are.’ This became my mantra to help focus on winning the game I was playing rather than always being distracted on what I need to do to get to the next level. Going to play for Malahide CC in Ireland created the perfect opportunity to do this as I felt my results there had no impact on my career in Australia. An entirely new environment where I could simply enjoy playing and mentoring a young team, reminded me of why I started playing in the first place. We are at our best when we are able to laugh, enjoy the contest and appreciate the simple things.

A shift from focusing on my own performance, to how I can impact the team on and off the field.

On returning from Ireland, I decided to make the bold decision to move to Melbourne and play and captain Ringwood CC. I initially did not want the captaincy as I had not done it before and wanted to focus on my own game. Although challenging at times, I soon learnt that taking on the captaincy forced me to think about something bigger than myself. It turned out to be my most enjoyable season of cricket in at least 10 years. It turns out that focusing on impacting others creates that feeling of having purpose, not trying to be a ‘big dog’ ourselves.

Now I know most athletes and coaches out there are obsessed with stats and I’m sure you’re wondering if all this change actually brought about a shift in performance? The answer is a resounding yes. Compared to the 2018-19 season, the 2019-20 season produced 316 more runs and 8 more wickets, both at a better average, and in a competition that is significantly stronger compared to WA. To add a cherry on top, I ended up sharing the Una Paisley medal (best and fairest in the league) with Irish International and WBBL player Kim Garth.

How you can start the journey?

Be yourself, trust, let go. All sounds fantastic. I’ll just do that then be on my way, see you in the middle at the World Cup final…

Clearly this is easier said than done. As performance coach Drewe Broughton says, “It takes the greatest courage known to mankind to do one of the simplest tasks. Be yourself.”

It is important to understand that the ability to live from the inside-out is not a destination that we reach and then everything is perfect again. It is a process that we all continue to work through as we battle our inner-critic and egoic voices. This ability to live inside-out is what it actually means to be more.

With no cricket on the horizon in the near future, I highly recommend taking the time to reflect on the following:

  1. Set your base

What is your story so far? What are your character strengths? What do you value? What setbacks have made you stronger today? What does your best self look like?

  1. Take inventory of your environment

Who is in your support network? Who inspires you? How are you going to manage yourself in environments that make it scary to step into your best self?

  1. Find your why

Why do you play cricket? What is driving you to become the best version of yourself? How can you impact others through your journey?

Set lofty goals, work incredibly hard, lean on your support network. However, never forget your greatest competitive advantage: You!

About the Author

Bhavi Devchand is the head of female cricket at Cricket Mentoring while she continues to pursue her own cricket career. She was previously a professional cricketer with Western Australia and spent the most recent Australian summer captaining Ringwood Cricket Club in the Melbourne cricket competition. She is an all-rounder who bowls leg spin and is passionate about seeing cricket grow amongst girls and women around the world.

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One Comment

  1. Sahil May 13, 2020 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    I can relate with this post so much. Thanks for highlighting the false ‘perfection’ mindset that we create along our journey. Currently i am at the phase where i couldn’t figure out why i wasn’t being able to go to next level while constantly being a top performer.
    Appreciate some help on this.

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Chris 'Bucky' Rogers batting for Somerset in one of his 554 First-class innings

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I once spoke to a former professional player who became a coach in the professional ranks and asked him whether he would change his technique during the season during his playing career. He responded in the negative.

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About the writer: Chris 'Bucky' Rogers isn't your typical cricketer. Having toiled away in First-class cricket for over 15 years, he was finally rewarded for years of dominance opening the batting in both Australia & England with selection in the Australian Test team for the 2013 Ashes in England. He went on to play 25 Test matches for Australia where he scored 2,015 runs @ 42.87 including 5 x 100s. With the amazing First-class record of 25,470 runs & 76 centuries, he has now retired from playing and transitioned into coaching, where he currently is the batting coach for Somerset CCC. 

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He said working on technique is for preseason and once he started playing, all that mattered was watching the ball.

That, I’ve discovered, is a very traditional response, handed down from father to son.

I had to stop myself from groaning out loud. “How short-sighted” I wanted to reply. I’m sure he’s not alone and these days, coaches are reluctant to challenge technical issues in young players, preferring the students to figure it out themselves. Perhaps they fear intervention will only create more problems.

NO PRE-SEASON?

What if a player never has a pre-season as, like me, he plays continuously on both sides of the world, where the seasons overlap?

Just once did I have a pre-season in Australia – and that I remember mostly for the agony of running the sand-hills at City Beach in Perth, rather than any working on technique.

Instead I was chasing an endless summer by playing 12 months of the year in England as well as home. “What is a pre-season?” was my standard jibe at teammates.

That meant technical experimentation had to be done on the job – so the standard answer to not work on your game for six months of the year seems like a waste of time and opportunity to me.

Often as a young batsman, you’ll have days when you pick up a bat and it feels like it is a natural extension of your body and other days when it feels like you’re hefting around a railway sleeper.

DAYS WHEN THINGS WEREN'T WORKING

Numerous days in grade cricket and even opening the batting for Western Australia, my swing would feel so awkward I would be trying to adjust almost every ball. I might try picking the bat up higher in my swing, other times move my hands forward in my stance and even change the width of my stance. These were just a very few of many.

In fact what would really confuse me is, somehow I’d last until the lunch break feeling like I couldn’t hit one off the square and then come out after a 40 minute sit down and feel like I was Brian Lara … well not quite but you get the drift.

What it taught me though was to keep trying to get better. I would often think to myself, and now sprout this to every kid possible, one step back to go two steps forward. Working with my dad who was my coach, I’d try all sorts of technical changes and usually, after a while, something would click and it would all fall into place. It would be like hitting at a brick wall and then all of a sudden one thing works and the rest fall over like dominoes.

PROBLEM SOLVING - DON'T GET OUT THE SAME WAY

One of the great advantages of playing in four innings matches is the chance to problem solve as a batsman between the first and second innings. I disliked … no, I hated getting out the same way or to the same bowler in the second innings as I did in the first.

After getting out I would sit down and figure out a way to combat the bowler who dismissed me first time around. It might not have just been a mental change but quite possibly a technical one.

Stuart Clark once dismissed me for a duck with a perfect ball that pitched on off stump line and nipped away but instead of just accepting he’d bowled me a jaffa, I checked out the footage and saw my hands were not coming down straight in my swing pattern and caused everything - my hands and bat - to go towards mid on. So my bat actually was inside the line, hence the ball found my outside edge.

Second innings, my focus was trying to get my hands to go towards mid-off while playing with the inside half of my bat to counter the away movement. Yes I know this is a bit more than ‘Batting 101’ but I only started to understand my own batting by constantly tinkering – even to the extent of working out what doesn’t work, to find out what does.

PLAYING TO COACHING

As I moved from player to become a coach, a surprise first-up piece of advice from other coaches was to be careful about the level of input you try to pass on. Yes, that makes sense and it would be ignorant to not listen to advice from people who have spent a long time coaching. However, it will need to be balanced against my long-held belief that the best players in the world never stop seeking improvement.

My first club-coaching role came via former Australian player and teammate Bob Quiney to help out at his beloved St Kilda Cricket Club, where the players have an average age younger than ever and a thirst for learning.

I was wary of saying too much early, but when one player said, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to do Buck”, my tinkering instincts took over.

“One step back to go two steps forward”, I reasoned.

The first player asked me how to play slow medium pace bowlers as he had nicked off to one the previous Saturday. I told him to be positive and proactive. Walk at the bowler or walk into his line … a la Steve Smith … and whip him through the leg side if the bowler went for the stumps. The next Saturday he was in the same position and ended up, he said, with too much going through his mind and being neither proactive nor defensive. He nicked off again. But he had learnt from his mistake and knew what he’d do the next time and since has had some success.

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 Bucky passing on some knowledge during a batting masterclass for Cricket Mentoring in Perth

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INDOOR NETS SYNDROME

Another had what I call ‘indoor nets syndrome’ and had developed a swing where he just jabbed at balls that would race off his bat on the true synthetic surface, but had difficulty with the natural variation of turf wickets. His hands would go towards the leg side in his swing but the ball would slice to cover or more likely the slips. I was wary of trying to reshape his whole swing but then thought “Why not?” I’ll show him what I think works and he can figure the end result out for himself”. He was quite difficult to adjust and we even experimented with grip changes, not something I’d usually recommend.

After an hour’s work he was starting to get the basic principles and enjoying it. He had a far better understanding of a swing after trying something new and that can only benefit him. He can always go back to what he was doing but at least he’d tinkered and thought about it. Afterwards he seemed genuinely excited at the change and the understanding.

Yet there have been plenty of times where my coaching hasn’t worked. I tried to help Peter Siddle with his batting but made it worse. Eventually he figured a few things out himself and is still getting better – so maybe my “one-step-backwards” theory helped!

CHANGE TAKES TIME

With most things, change takes time to feel natural and this principle needs to be stressed and I’m wary of trying to change players into playing like me but sometimes certain things need to be tried.  I’m amazed when I see any tall player stand with his feet close together in his stance when Kevin Pietersen is ‘Example A’ of how to succeed as a tall batsman.

I firmly believe all the best players in the world are tinkerers and never stop trying to improve. Just ask Marcus Trescothick, who at age 41 was still telling everyone how he’s trying to fix things. That and his saying that ‘form hides in mysterious places’ were my two favourite things I got from him.

At the moment the county season has just started and he’s still working on his game plan against different kind of bowling. You’d think he’d have it all sorted by now but no, he’s using every opportunity to improve as we all should.

SUCCEEDING AT THE AGE OF 38

When asking me to write this article, Scolls (Tom Scollay) asked that I write a little about my own journey and how I managed to play well in the 2015 Ashes at age 38.

Like Trescothick, I had a thirst for perfection. Grit and determination was only a part of it. So many years of 12-months-playing of four-day cricket meant I had a very good understanding of my own game, with all its strengths and weaknesses, and to have some success against James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Steve Finn in bowler-friendly conditions was only possible with an in depth, intimate knowledge of my swing and my game.

For different bowlers and conditions, I would have different triggers. On the wickets that provided more bounce and seam I would have a back and across trigger while at other times, particularly against Anderson’s swing, I would push forward to try and cover the movement.

This skill only comes from trial and error and experimentation and willingness to learn. If every time I tried something, had initial failure and not persevered, my game would have been very one dimensional and limited.

Growing up I often watched in awe some of the bigger kids who seemed to make batting look easy but then fell away when they had to play against adults who matched them in size and strength. I believe it was because these kids had got it so easy early on, that they hadn’t learned to work at their game to try to understand it better.

ALL THE BEST ARE ALWAYS CHASING IMPROVEMENT

Of course, there are plenty of examples to disprove the mould but of all the best batsmen I have seen, the one consistent attribute they possess is a desire to never be satisfied and to chase improvement.

They tinker to learn … and then comes improvement.

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