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Junior Players don't be too hard on yourselves!

Updated: May 1

With the latest mental health cases developing in younger children a lot sooner than expected. I have started to witness a lot of breakdowns in junior performances, attitudes and confidence, to a point where they develop anxiety and depression almost immediately. Sports like cricket are there to be enjoyed with a sense of relaxation and passion, not to ruin your confidence or to generate self-doubt in your abilities.

Junior Cricketer with poor performances

During various coaching sessions, I have seen many children not grasp a concept or technique as quickly as others. They throw tantrums by smacking their bat on the ground, walking off in a strop, or cursing themselves to the point that they want no part of cricket ever again.

"Why is it happening more now than ever before?" I am not a medical expert, but I have some ideas from what I have witnessed. The digital technology advancements in social media have allowed specific platforms to become a mental problem for sports players. As it allows one to be criticized and broadly bullied, not psychically but emotionally, through taunting and having the 'Micky' taken out of you by your peer groups. They call it 'banter' and 'cussing' Sometimes the jokes get to a point where they become severe and affect one's self-belief, and doubts develop.

I have seen it during Junior games or when juniors play in adult teams alongside me. They're constantly teasing each other about their own performances instead of focusing on helping the team they play only for themselves, there is no team unity. One person has been teased so much that they want to prove their friends wrong rather than play for the team and club they represent.

They don't think about the game through a tactical or mental approach. So many times, you will see a junior player run in and bowl the same ball again and again yet still get carved for fours and sixes, not just in matches but even in the nets. There is no thought process going through their minds on how to bounce back. The nerves kick in as they're now embarrassed amongst their peers for a poor performance.

If you're being too hard on yourself, here are some tips to remain calm and relaxed.

Tip #1 - Every player has an off day!

Even at an international level, so many players experience a dip in performance, but the good ones ignore social media and the press and find ways to bounce back to their original mental forms.

"Form is temporary, Class is Permanent!"

When you're in the nets or even during a match, before you bowl or face a ball, think about what you're about to do or did previously. Ask yourself self "What went wrong?", "how do I fix it?", "What did the batter or bowler just do?" Take a moment to breathe and, most importantly, shake it off. Relax your body. Don't get overworked. The more tense you become, the more your brain starts to overthink and analyse everything to the point where you're not playing confidently anymore. You become too self-absorbed in doubt. You question everything to the point of wanting to quit and give up. Nothing is easy in life, we have to make it easy by learning from our mistakes and raising above it. That's simply what separates the great players from the not-so-great ones. The right attitude and dedication will get you far in sports and life.

Tip #2 - Parent's, don't be too hard on them

I would never dream of telling any parent how to raise their own child as they know best. However, during my coaching sessions, there have always been a few parents who are a bit too tough on their children and their failures.

Learn to encourage your child positively, even when things aren't going right. If a child has the correct support and backing from a parent they will overcome all temporary dips in performance. Constantly challenge your child to do their best even in the worst moments of their lives.

Even my father always asked me one question after a game: "Did you really give it your all out there with your bowling, fielding, and batting, or could you have given a bit more?"

If the answer is "YES, I gave it my all," then there is nothing wrong with their performance. They just don't understand what they could have learnt to improve on or do differently next time around. It's our job as coaches to fine-tune bits that are not obvious to a player or parents; it's what we look out for.

If the answer is "NO! I think I could have done this and that" then you know how to make them try harder and find something new to work on. They can choose to better themselves independently, with parents and family members, and even with their coach. You can never stop learning the game or how to keep improving.

"Cricket is such a sport that you get to learn something from someone every day" - Ravindra Jadeja

Lastly, parents, when your child is with a coach, please remember we are qualified to help your child improve. No coach wants the worst for a child; we want what is best for them so that they develop a genuine love and passion for the game. Parent interventions during a session do not help the child. They confuse the child, and they don't understand who to listen to: the coach or the parent.

Tip #3 - If things aren't working for you be patient

Educate yourself to become patient and disciplined and you will never have an issue with performance or not being able to improve your game.

If you are bowling in a match and not taking wickets don't panic, as long as your not going for many runs, you're still doing your job. Bowling is not all about taking wickets it's also about being economical. Even at an international level, you will see players like Jimmy Anderson not having a wicket in a test match innings but will have an economy rate of less than 2 runs a ball. No captain, manager or coach will ever be impressed if you took 2-3 wickets but went for 100 plus runs in your 10-over spell. Don't panic and start changing or trying new things wait for the batter to make the mistake. As a bowler you have six chances, the batter only has one.

The same principle applies when you're batting. If you're not scoring a run, don't panic and try and hit a boundary. Remain calm. The runs will come. I still remember a match my brother Omar Choudhry played, and it wasn't the greatest of pitches. He opened the batting and it took him 21 overs to get his first single!. If I remember the scorebook correctly around 80 dot balls, everything byes or some other form of an extra. His teammates and club members cheered when he got his first run. He later went on to score an unbeaten 154* Not Out.

"You missed fielding a ball?" Don't just throw your hands on your head! Chase it and try to get a runout or stop the boundary. "You dropped an important catch?" No problem. Wait and take the next chance that comes.

Concentration is key. With a great attitude, being mentally strong, and being patient, you will overcome any challenge.

Final thoughts

Remember you're playing to represent your club and team. Cricket is not an individual sport. Play together and work together to improve. Don't let your friends' teasing and taunting get the better of you. Develop a strong, mentally correct mind to overcome all hardships. Contact your coaches for help on mental conditioning and game-based Scenarios during your 1-to-1 sessions. Keep practising with the intention of learning a new skill. Understand what went wrong in a match and how to correct it for next time.

Finally, you only have something to prove to yourself not to impress others. Only you know and understand your limits. As coaches, we will just test those limits and challenge you to be even better.

"Enjoy yourself and relax!"

Good luck and happy cricketing from Ali Choudhry Cricket Coaching

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