This can be a tough time for all, particularly when it comes to mental strength. Getting through each day can be a struggle and not just for those who have experienced darker moments before Covid-19 struck.
The world of professional sport is an area where mental agility and strength is critical to one’s success and cricket is one such sport where players have suffered to the detriment of their game. Fortunately, today there are many sources of help and the stigma of mental wellbeing is well on its way to being broken down, thanks to organisations like the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA), which launched Mind Matters tutorials as long ago as 2012 and their Stress-free app.
We got in touch with England cricketer and JM Finn brand ambassador, Tammy Beaumont to ask how she copes with some of the demands placed upon her by professional sport and how she is coping being cooped up at home.
- As an individual skills, as well as a team-based game, how do you deal with the pressure of not delivering for example, dropping a catch or getting a low score?
That’s probably one of the hardest parts about the game of cricket. One day you can score a 100 and the team still lose, or you can score 0 and the team pull off an incredible win. I think that’s why it’s so important to either have a) a team culture which promotes the success of the team above any individual or b) as an individual member of a team, hold the personal value that the team’s success is the goal and any individual recognition is a bonus. Obviously no one ever wants to drop a catch or not contribute any runs and it doesn’t get any easier when these things happen but when you’re in a team where the goal is the team’s success above all else, mistakes are quickly forgiven by the team. It’s a case of today it wasn’t your day, but that doesn’t detract from the effort you put in.
- As a world cup winner, can you explain the pressure you sensed when you went out to bat at Lords in the final, knowing that so many of the cricket playing public were watching?
Strangely enough, the day of the World Cup Final in 2017 was actually the day I was least nervous of all the World Cup games that year. Although we had the most people watching, and some added expectation of being the home team that day, I felt as though there had been more pressure from outside influences to reach the final than to win it. I remember the night before thinking that I wasn’t going to let my nerves ruin the day for me, and made myself only one goal for that day... embrace everything.
Normally I can be very serious in the lead up to the game, my game face is on and it’s all about taking on the opposition. The day of the final, I sat on the balcony enjoying the pre-game entertainment, waving to the crowd and generally just embraced the enormous atmosphere that I’d never experienced before.
This was pretty much the complete opposite to how I’d felt at the start of the tournament, with pre-game nerves, or anxiety as I know it now, playing a big part. It was important in times like that to recognize what got me to where I was. Why did people expect me to perform? Because I’d been consistent over a period of time. Why had I been consistent? Because I’d stuck to the basics every game, knew my strengths (and probably more importantly my limitations), mentally reset every time and trained damn hard in between.
- Staying with your historical world cup win, it was a huge boost for women’s cricket in the UK – knowing that you are instilling a legacy for the future of the game must bring about additional pressures?
Undoubtedly, the World Cup win was a huge boost for women’s cricket. However, for me the first sign of additional pressures came a few years earlier when we had just received full time professional contracts for the first time. With this came a much greater scrutiny on our performances and took a fair bit of time to come to terms with what is expected as a full time athlete.
For me, personally, I think providing a legacy for young girls (and boys), particularly since 2017, is actually more of a privileged part of my job. It drives me to make sure that I am a role model in even more ways in my life than just on a cricket pitch. It’s amazing to see how many young children include you in their list of ‘heroes’ for school projects or similar, and it really is heartwarming to see. However, if we look at what is going on at the moment, the key workers, doctors, nurses, carers and even supermarket workers are the real heroes out there. Especially now it has highlighted to me the importance of not only being a good cricketer, but also a good role model and person in ways that I can do outside the cricket pitch.
- Do you get nervous when you are waiting to go in to bat? If so, how do you deal with it?
I have always got very nervous before going into bat. When I was younger and first in the England team, I found that my nerves would cripple my performance. It took me to really start to understand what was going on, to realise that this response is perfectly normal and something that if I channel correctly, can actually be of a great advantage to me.
What works for me is to channel the nervous energy into something positive, use it to get my legs going and my footwork fast, or to steer my thoughts to be more positive, about what I can or will do in the situation, and if possible away from any doubts or self-deprecation.
- When you are unable to play due to an injury, how do you keep your spirits up?
I’ve been fortunate to not have had many serious injuries that have kept me on the sidelines for an extended period, however, injuries are never nice to deal with. I think the first thing to do in that situation is to only focus on what you can control. Yes, you want to be out there playing for the team, but wallowing about will not help your situation. Having a routine or other distractions (such as hobbies or interests) come in really handy here, giving you things to focus on and pass the time. Obviously, following rehab properly and good nutrition will make the comeback quicker but it also comes down to a bit of patience, which I have to confess is not my strongest virtue!
- Being in the media spotlight during something like the Ashes must add to the pressure. What’s it like having to make a TV appearance immediately after losing a key match and how do you maintain your composure?
Speaking after losing a match is never fun! Fortunately, my parents drilled into me from a young age that there’s no excuse for being a sore loser! Must have been something to do with having a sporty older brother that I had enough practice. We have also had media training around answering questions we don’t necessarily want to answer so in these situations it is just a case of being honest and humble. Even if there’s a more intense emotion its important to keep a level head and almost plan what you want to say.
If we’ve lost, the opposition has either outplayed us or we’ve played badly, so I normally just tell the truth, there’s not much point making excuses as the press normally see through that!
- One of your biggest disappointments must have been in this year’s T20 World Cup when you lost the semi-final to India without a ball being bowled. Getting knocked out of a tournament in this fashion must be incredibly tough. How did you cope with that?
Yes, that one still hurts! I think previously when we’ve lost big matches the initial emotions, devastation or anger, hit the minute the final ball has been bowled but after a few weeks the hurt starts to fade into motivation for the next, almost a well you go to for motivation when you need it during those horrible fitness sessions or tough pressure training sessions. However, with this one it was much more of a slow burner!
Over the course of a few hours at the ground the chances of playing just started to drain away into nothing, while we sat and watched it rain with absolutely nothing we can do about it. There was no real moment I can recall where we got to grieve what might have been for our World Cup dreams. I don’t think the feeling of ‘what might have been’ will ever really go away for that one. Especially now we’re shut up and home with no cricket to play or look forward to, to start on our next journey for a world title, for revenge!
- As a team game, do you find it is easy to spot when a teammate is feeling down? And what’s your approach to boosting team morale?
As a team, we spend so much time together, in each other’s pockets almost that you do tend to notice when someone is down. We’re lucky that we know each other inside out and have a good culture at embracing our new or younger members to get to know them too.
On how to go about it, for me it depends on what kind of person they are. If they are more of a private person, and you know they won’t necessarily open up easily, it might just be a case of inviting them out in a group for dinner or something fun just to cheer them up. Or even just acknowledge you’ve noticed that they seem down and if they want to talk you’re there for them. If it’s someone you have a closer relationship to, or they are willing to share, then its best to get them on their own, somewhere you won’t be easily interrupted and can talk openly. I find most informal coffee chats can put the world to rights!
Sometimes it’s enough to just let someone know you’re there for them, not necessarily offer advice or solutions, just that you’re in it with them.
- Presumably, you are as frustrated as the next person in the current climate. How do you stay motivated when keeping to a strict training regime before the cricket season starts, whenever that might be?
It’s obviously very frustrating at the moment, especially not knowing when it will all end. The main thing I’ve been trying to do is set and maintain some sort of routine. As a household, we’ve planned a week ahead; including who’s cooking what when, what training I need to do on which days, and even some more fun plans such as movie suggestions, board games or quiz nights! So much of my on-field routines are coming in useful at the moment. Focusing on what I can control, and almost ignoring what I cannot, has been really useful. I’ve been fortunate to make a little home gym in my garage so training can continue as normal and it’s just a case of not baking too many banana breads or spending too much time in the fridge for the nutrition side!
Another big one for me is maintaining good mental health. It’s easy at a time like this to feel really stressed and overwhelmed. I’ve started restricting the amount of news I read or watch. Yes it’s important to watch, but actually its scary and more often too much to hear constantly. Instead, I try to find a “good news story” once a day. My favorite by far was about Captain Tom Moore, 99 years young and raising £18m+ for the NHS by doing laps of his garden.
I’ve also started a couple of online courses to keep my brain active and have enjoyed spending time actually in my house getting the DIY done that has been on the ‘to do list’ for over a year! Another important thing is to reach out and communicate. I’m trying to speak to my friends and family who are more isolated at least once a week.
One of the hardest things to deal with so far has been actually feeling guilty for enjoying many parts of isolation. I appreciate I’m in a very lucky position living with some of my friends and family at the moment, along with having everything I currently need available to me, has made some of this lockdown lifestyle much easier for me than others. I think acknowledging this, allowing myself to enjoy what I can, while appreciating others may be having it tougher and hoping to lend a hand in the future, through volunteering, will hopefully continue to get me through this time.
- Finally, what tips would you suggest to a budding young cricketer about how to keep your eye in in the current circumstances?
This must be a tough time for any youngster out there, especially young cricketers. It’s important to stay active in any way you can, plus it’s a great way to be creative around your training! I’ve managed to find a few soft balls and have started practicing my over arm throws against a wall of my house, trying to hit a small spot on a brick over and over again!
When I was younger, I once threw a cricket ball in a sock and attached a long rope to it so I could tie it up to a tree and practice hitting the ball on the middle of the bat. (I actually think Sam Curran put a video of this on his Instagram recently if people need ideas!). Either way this is a great time to do some drill work in whatever space you have available. Even pro cricketers will do drills breaking down their actions from a few paces or tennis ball drills to make technical changes with the bat so now, more than ever is a great time to do some of those.
Tammy Beaumont is a brand ambassador for JM Finn