Losing the mind game
This is the first part of an article by Roland Butcher, who was born in Barbados and had a playing career spanning 20 years with Middlesex in the English County Championship. In 1980 he became the first black West Indian cricketer to play for England, making 52 on debut against Australia in a One-Day International. A few months later he made his Test debut in Barbados against the West Indies.
This article?is about people, performance and the problem with West Indies sport. But arguably it’s about much more than that.
It is about why we do the things we do, why we sometimes don’t do the things that we know we should, and how we can perhaps do the things we do well even better. So whilst we may well be talking about sport here, we’re really talking about life.
Let’s admit it: West Indies sport is in a bit of a mess. Despite the tremendous amount of money that seems to be available for its development these days, we continue to fall way behind the rest of the sporting world in terms of success and achievement.
And whilst sport may be at the heart of our culture, our continued failure in the national arena is slowly eroding the confidence and enthusiasm of our sporting public.
Arguably, we underachieve in all our major sports, whilst the recent ICC Cricket World Cup confirmed what we all thought – our national game lacks flair, imagination and mental toughness.
The competition was a festival of cricket blessed with invention and wonderful technique. And, yes, it was a true example of the way the game can, and should be played.
But we were excluded from the celebrations. West Indies played a brand of cricket that lacked courage and conviction and concluded, naturally, in failure, whilst the likes of India played with commitment and enthusiasm to illuminate the tournament with entertaining cricket.
In Test cricket, too, we underachieve and continually produce results far below those we are capable of. Knowledge and skills we have in abundance, but the right mindset seemingly eludes us. Consider Darren Ganga and Devon Smith, just two of our finest regional cricketers, who seemingly find it almost impossible to replicate their domestic form at Test level.
Football is another sport in which we seem unable to produce players capable of taking on the world.
The 2004 ICC Trophy in England, on the other hand, was admittedly a joy to behold. And, yes, we did do very well didn’t we? But in the latest World Cup, a lack of self-belief and positive expectations was evident in almost everything we did. Most of our success was a pleasant surprise rather than a validated certainty.
The question is: what are we doing wrong and, perhaps more importantly, what should we be doing about it?
It was arguably Timothy Gallway’s Inner Game of Tennis that first prompted sportspeople to look inward rather than outward and reflect upon something that is really just common sense.
Performance, sporting or otherwise, is not so much about the body as it is about the mind. It is not so much about physiology as it is about psychology.
So whilst performance may manifest itself as behaviour and results, it is much more than a fantasy dribble, the ball in the back of the net and the roar of the crowd.
It is not so much about knowledge, skills and fitness as it is about attitude, motivation and belief. Gallway’s book was articulate, passionate and sought not so much to convince people of these things, as to get people to convince themselves.
For sport it was a landmark text, whilst its message has been supported anecdotally and academically ever since. We know all this. It is certainly nothing new but have we truly learnt anything at all?
The failure of West Indies sport would tend to suggest otherwise. This article, meanwhile, is a reminder – an invitation, in its own small way, of what performance is really all about and what we should perhaps be doing in order to achieve it.
• Roland Butcher is director of sports at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.