Webster’s book should be required reading
IT?IS?WITH?ebullient ecstasy that I share a few thoughts on the magnificent work done by my lifelong friend Dr Rudi Webster in his book Think Like A Champion.
The book is required reading for millions of sportspeople worldwide. It should adorn the shelves of boardrooms, schools, clubs and sports associations and would definitely quicken the minds of coaches, selectors and board members in the areas so crucial to the growth and development of their young players.
Dr Webster’s career as a sportsman, medical practitioner, West Indies cricket team manager, director of the Shell West Indies Cricket Academy and a mental skills coach easily qualified him to write his excellent first book Winning Ways, which I thought could only be equalled but not surpassed.
I was wrong, for his second book Think Like A Champion is a masterpiece. He has illuminated the dark corners of a sportsperson’s mind. Even those who have great talent are well coached and strive to excel at the highest level.
Simply put, Dr Webster posits the view that to play like a champion you must think like a champion. I concur, for I have never seen, or indeed heard of, a great sportsperson who was not a great thinker. It is easy to train the body but harder to train the mind. This book places emphasis on mental skills and rightly so, for whatever the body produces, the mind has already rehearsed.
This is the age of globalization, where competitiveness and adaptation to world-changing conditions are key elements of our survival and performance. In cricket, adapting to the pace and bounce of the Australian and South African pitches, the prodigious spin of the subcontinent pitches, and the swing and swerve of those in England and New Zealand are all part of the steep learning curve for players.
Dr Webster postulates that you must think like a champion to occupy the crease for hours and build partnerships. You must think like a champion and be disciplined enough to bowl a good line and length in order to put pressure on the batsmen to get them out.
This is also an age where players are paid commensurate with their ability but there are now many more distractions – verbal harassment called sledging, ambiguous tweeting that gets them in trouble, and match-fixing. This book equips all sportspersons with the mental skills to avoid such pitfalls.
Furthermore, Dr Webster has provided us with the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest sportsmen, who have eloquently articulated their views on various aspects of their successful careers.
Among those interviewed are the two greatest all-round cricketers, Sir Garfield Sobers and Jacques Kallis; Clive Lloyd, captain of the world champion West Indies team; M. S. Dhoni, the successful captain of Team India; Dennis Lillee and Wasim Akram, two of the world’s greatest fast bowlers; Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell, two of the world’s best batsmen; and world champion Australian golfers Greg Norman and Peter Thomson.
As a member of the Worrell/Sobers West Indies cricket team, I delighted in the exploits of that world champion team from 1962 to 1968 and I was thrilled to be a selector and a manager during the reign of the Clive Lloyd/Viv Richards world champion West Indies team from 1980 to 1995.
The latter team is widely regarded as one of the best in the history of sport. In those days we had a support staff of manager, assistant manager and physical trainer/therapist.
Players of my generation played at the highest level without a coach and made it through by relying on instinct, a good work ethic, self-motivation, self-reliance, strong self-discipline, common sense, clear thinking, mental alertness and help from other players.
Currently, the West Indies team can boast of a support staff of nine in their dressing rooms but no one who is an expert in matters of the mind is included.
With the advent of three formats of international cricket, which necessitates a large support staff, it is pellucid that the team should have an expert to help players with their mental preparation, mental conditioning and mental control.
It is an absolute requirement that players be trained to be mentally tough to deal with the many pressure situations they will face on and off the field.
Tiger Woods, probably the best ever golfer, won many championships with an injured body but when his mind was “injured” by the pressure of off-field indiscretions, his game fell apart. Tiger has since calmed and strengthened his mind and is playing like a champion again.
Coping effectively with pressure is vital for success at the highest level. The problem in the West Indies is that emphasis is mostly on the physical, and the parts that really matter – the mind, heart and soul – are regrettably ignored.
The importance of combining the mind and body to optimize performance has been known for thousands of years. The Apostle Paul in Corinthians said that anyone going into a game must undergo strict training and The Bible also says: “Be transformed by the renewal of the mind.”
Intelligent planning and high-quality preparation are also not fully appreciated by the West Indies Cricket Board.
As many great athletes say: “Preparation and desire can at times make up for a lack of skill, but skill alone cannot compensate for a lack of willpower, preparation or mental control.”
I congratulate Rudi on his signal contribution to the pursuit of sporting excellence.