Building mental skills for cricket…without playing cricket

Ever thought of bird watching?

No, really.

Scan an area, ideally a tree where birds congregate or visit; even better if it is around 20m away. Relax, try not to focus too closely on any one point, but be aware of what is going on in the space you are scanning.

When you spot movement, focus in on it. First on the movement, then perhaps on the branch or leaf, then down to the bird (or cat, or squirrel, or plastic bag…). Work towards an ever finer focus.

Now really look. Can you see any more detail? What colour is the bird? It’s wings? Beak? No binoculars.

Watch for a few seconds. Pick out as much detail as you can. Hold that fierce focus, visual and mental.

Then relax, and return to scanning.

And repeat.

What’s going on?

Trying to maintain the highest focus on the bird all of the time will be tiring, and means you will probably miss the next one.

So being able to switch focus, from the general (what is going on in the tree?), to the specific (seeing the bird on the branch), right through to the precise becomes essential.

As is the relaxation of focus and return to broader awareness of what is going on around you.

What has this got to do with cricket?

If you have read any of Greg Chappell on Coaching, you might recognise some of the language I have used here.

Chappell writes of developing a routine for concentration when batting.

  1. Awareness
  2. Fine focus
  3. Fierce focus

And my bird-watching exercise tries to replicate the mental (and visual) process advocated by Chappell.

Substitute “tree” with “the field of play with, the bowler walking back to his mark” — what do you see?

For “bird on the branch”, instead look for “ball in hand”.

And for the “bird’s beak”, how about looking for the ball at the moment of release — can you see the bowler’s hand, and how the ball is held & released? How about sighting the seam as the all comes towards you?

I know — this might be too much detail to take in and process, too “fierce”, even if some top-class batters have claimed to be able to see the individual stitches in the seam. Find how close focus works for you.

But learning to control your focus and attention in this way, by watching birds in the trees, just might help your batting!

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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