One of the things I love about this time of year is all the sport that we are surrounded with. Given my background it’s not surprising that I feel this way and I do enjoy getting caught up in the excitement and passion of the various competition that are taking place.
We’ve got the (women’s) football world cup to watch- at this point England have lost their semi final against the USA. There are many lessons to be taken from that match, not least of which is why players didn’t step up to the job they have a specific skill in.
The (golf) open starts in a couple of weeks as I write this, we’re right in the middle of Wimbledon, somewhat a mecca for me over the past 30 odd years. And, of course we have the excitement of the Cricket World cup as well (not forgetting the women’s Ashes as well).
I’ve really enjoyed the cricket. It’s had some fantastic games, plenty of drama, controversy and nail-biting finishes. Everything you want from a tournament at this level and more.
England have qualified for the Semi finals and by the time you read this may well have won the whole thing – fingers crossed!
As favourites it was pretty much assumed that qualification was a given and that England would cruise through. This is England though. It was interesting and nerve-racking watching them trying to qualify after losing to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia in earlier games. This meant the last two group games became “must wins” in order to get through.
What I found interesting is that when it mattered, when the pressure was on, when there was no choice, they stepped up and delivered.
A day before the game against India, the first of the must-wins, I happened to hear one of the England players being interviewed on the radio.
The question to Mark Wood, one of England’s strike bowlers was something along lines of:
“How big a part does nerves play in a game of this magnitude – do you get nervous and how do you cope with it?”
His answer and my inspiration for this article was fascinating. This isn’t a quote but my recollection of it.
“Of, course we’re nervous. It’s a good thing. You need nerves, it gets you ready for the occasion, mentally and physically. But as soon as I start my run up It’s just another training session. It becomes something I’ve done a thousand times before, ten thousand. It’s just another ball. My body knows what to do so I just let it take over. The training takes over. It’s why we train; it’s why we practice. You practice so that when you do it for real it’s just another attempt. It’s no more or less important than the previous attempt. It’s no more or less important than the next one.
So, yeah, I’m nervous. I’m nervous because of the occasion. I’m not scared though. Why should I fear doing something I’ve done thousands of times before and will do thousands of times in the future?”
I loved this response. I loved it not just because of the confidence behind it. Not just because it gave me confidence in the whole team but because I believe he’s right.
He’s accepted that he’s going to have nerves. He’s accepted it to the point that he embraces it, looks forward to it and recognises its value. What he doesn’t do is allow that nervousness to morph into fear.
He knows what he’s capable of and backs himself to do it. He knows because he’s done it before, thousands of times. Ten’s of thousands. This gives him confidence through knowledge and past evidence, and this becomes belief.
He can’t control what the batsmen does once he’s released the ball, he can only control what he can do. So, he focusses on that. Not the outcome. The outcome is unknown, uncertain and unpredictable. He doesn’t know what will happen. If he were to focus on the outcome, he has no past evidence to rely on. He has no confidence in a positive result and no belief. That’s where the fear starts.
I know not everyone reading this is a sports fan, let alone a cricket fan but let’s be clear. This isn’t just about cricket.
What Mark Wood talked about is an antidote to the fear we have every day in business when trying to make things work.
You know you should be making calls instead of reading this (unless it’s Sunday and you’re in the bath). Or perhaps pressing send on that email proposal. Maybe it’s putting up your first blog for the world to see or going live on Facebook for the first, second or even third time. It may be that tomorrow you’ve got an opportunity to speak in front of and audience of your ideal clients and you’re desperately thinking up excuses to get out of it.
It doesn’t matter what it is. There’s always something that we’re doing for the first time and that’s scary. We’re focussed on the outcome because we have no past evidence, confidence and belief in our part of it. There’s no back catalogue of blogs to draw upon. No recordings of thousands of calls made prior to this one. No videos of you on stage generating wild applause.
There’s no training. You can’t treat the call as just another call, the proposal as one of ten you’re doing that day. It matters, you’re not an expert so the (unknown) outcome looms large.
And what does fear do? It creates a poor outcome for you. It says you’ll get sworn at, unsubscribed, jeered off the stage.
Mark Wood’s antidote is to treat it like training. To do that you must train. The call then becomes one of many, the talk just another talk.
I suspect if the question had been asked of a batsman the answer would have been the same. But perhaps not if the batsman were being asked to bowl. That’s not their skill set. There’s less evidence, less training, less confidence, more fear.
That’s why cricket it a team game. The batter’s bat, the bowlers bowl. The keeper keeps. It’s a rare player who can do two of those skills well.
So if you haven’t done the training, who do you need in your team that can bowl for you, bat for you, keep wicket for you? After all your job is that of a selector, not a player.