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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!