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Perception of Psychological Skills in Pakistani Cricketers: An Exploratory Study.

Byline: Vicar Solomon and Rukhsana Kausar

This research was conducted to examine knowledge and awareness of cricketers about psychological skills and their perception of significance of psychological skills in cricket. For this purpose, a qualitative study was carried out on the sample of eleven cricketers (n = 5 Under 19 years of age International cricketers, n = 6 cricketers of Pakistan International Cricket Team). Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were conducted with Pakistan U19 Cricket Team and Pakistan International Cricket Team. Information rich cases were selected in order to get in-depth information pertaining to issues of central importance. Focus group discussion and interviews mainly focused on two main questions i.e. what did they know about psychological skills; what is their perception about the role of psychological skills in cricket? Data gathered through focus group and individual interviews was transcribed and subjected to thematic analysis.

Main themes emerged were: that change in nature of cricket over the period of time had warranted the need for psychological skills; Psychological skills mainly comprised of several components i.e. sense of cohesiveness; psychological control; psychological preparation; freshness of mind; adherence to instruction of coaches for mental strengths. Psychological skills were perceived to be important for cricketers to enable them deal with pressure effectively and help them develop positive mind set. Findings of the present study have important implications for cricketers, for Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and National Cricket Academy (NCA) to help develop psychological skills in players and also to pay attention to cricketers' psychological health along with physical fitness. Cricket academy may design training programs for developing psychological skills in players which in turn would help improve their performance.

Keywords. Psychological skills, Pakistan Cricket Board, National Cricket Academy, Pakistani cricketers.

Cricket is being loved passionately by the people of Indian sub-continent. Government of Pakistan is spending huge amount of money on Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in order to improve quality of cricket in Pakistan. Pakistan Cricket Team is the national cricket team of Pakistan and is member of International Cricket Council (ICC). Pakistan has played 884 One Day International matches (ODIs), winning 469, losing 389, tying 8 with 18 ending with no-result (ESPNCricinfo, 2014). Pakistan team won 1992 World Cup championship, and was runners-up in the 1999 tournament. Pakistan, hosted the 1987 and 1996 World Cups, with the 1996 final being played at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The team has also played 121 Twenty-twenty International matches, the most of any team, winning 73 losing 45.

Pakistan won the 2009 ICC World Twenty-twenty and were runners-up in the inaugural tournament in 2007 and also won the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy for the first time. Pakistan was given a Test status on 28 July 1952 (Cricket Country Staff, 2012).

In recent years, sports psychology has highlighted the significance of psychological factors in cricket players. The increased stress of competition not only effects a cricketer physically but psychologically by affecting his or her performance abilities (Birrer and Morgan, 2010). Increased heart rate, cold sweat, and tension about competition hinder the way of concentration while in the field. Muscle fatigue, low efficiency, narrow focused and lower motivation cause flat performance (Orlick, 2000). Sports psychology enables cricketers and coaches to focus on psychological skills to control negative emotions and maximize performance. These skills allow players to focus on their game in a positive manner. Psychology has become another weapon in the armory of cricketers in gaining the winning edge (Birrer and Morgan, 2010). The main objective in sports is winning that is linked with higher level of performance.

As cricket has become more sophisticated, coaches who didn't utilize the psychological tools for their players had to bear disgrace in field because of their poor performance (Michaels, 2012).

A cricketer's mental approach can be constructed in nets at the same time when a batsman refines his/her reverse sweep or an off spinner who practice to perfect his/her ability in a particular deliver. The main problem of every international cricket team is that most gifted players are unable to match their psychological approach and physical competence under pressure (Stow, 2013). Psychological components along with physical fitness help cricketers to handle competitive performance including relaxation techniques, imagery and visualization, positive self-talk, and a mind set to deal with pre-competition stress and avoiding choking during competition (West, 2009). Along with physical and technical abilities, psychological and behavioral characteristics are also very useful to cope with choking as the mental side becomes more important when one gets to a higher level of cricket.

The 1990s was the fitness revolution, the 2000s have been the sport science and analysis decade and now the next leading edge will be the mental one (McRobert and Muller, 2009).

Psychological skills are decisive in sports at elite level where thoughts lead towards success. Sports have psychological constituents that require positive attitude to channelize energies on the journey of peak glory. Previously it was believed that these skills are achieved in early years of life but now it is admitted that players and coaches are proficient to learn a wide range of psychological skills that play a vital role in their performance (Cricket Country Staff, 2012). The journey of triumph has many psychological pressures and only mentally tough players have better ability to handle these pressures. In today's sports world; trophies, media coverage, and fandom is only for the champions of competitions who dominate their opponents with psychological supremacy regardless of field stressors.

Psychological skills can be helpful for players to improve their learning and motor skills, coping with competition stress, ability to attain prime performance and to avoid distractions from the competitive environment (Dohmen, 2008). Unfortunately, after terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan Cricket team in 2009 in Pakistan, psychological problems badly affected the physical abilities of the players as international cricket was banned in Pakistan (Mussings, 2013). International cricket got shift to United Arab Emirates from Pakistan as a home ground for Pakistan. Pakistani cricketers playing in UAE since 2009 and spend a great amount of time away from home that eventually cause different physical and psychological problems for international cricketers (Solomon and Mubshar, 2013).

Therefore, it is important to develop psychological skills in Pakistani cricketers which necessitate the need to first explore the phenomenon. This would help understand importance of psychological skills in addition to physical health.

This would also help design different psychological skills training programs to train Pakistan Cricket Team to perform to their utmost when in the field. Therefore the present study had two major objectives: to examine the extent of knowledge and awareness of cricketers about psychological skills required in cricket and to examine their perception of role of psychological skills along with physical fitness to help improve performance of a cricketer.

Rationale. Sports require peaceful state of mind and a positive attitude with significance to psychological constituents but psychological factors in sports are ignored and have never been addressed in Pakistan. Mental disenchantments are essential for all sports participants during competition especially for cricketers. It has been found that players employing psychological practices in their sports demonstrate higher levels of leadership, play with more confidence, and adjust to adversity more effectively while in the field (Griffin, 2008). Cricket has spread in Asia with the expansion of the British Empire. There is no place other than the sub-continent where cricket is so successful in terms of number of admirers as well as in commercial terms. Physical trainers and coaches are responsible for utilizing the fundamentals of sports psychology because it can assist and influence positive behavioral and emotional outcomes.

Worldwide, psychological techniques are increasingly being used by cricket coaches to help players maintain control and optimize their performance in competitive situation in order to focus in a positive manner on the task. Usually, cricketers have no insight of how to deal with pressure and technical thoughts during field (William and Harris, 2006). The increased stress of competitions can cause athletes to react both physically and mentally in a manner that can negatively affect their performance abilities. A player can be tensed and find it hard to perform up to the mark in their game and unable to maintain concentration, confidence, commitment, and control in cricket. Cricket is 90% a mental game and apart from physical fitness and cricketing skill, an area of strength cricketers seems to display is his/her ability to handle pressure and manage his/her self-doubt (Wallace, Baumeister and Vohs, 2005).

Physical factors and technical skills along with psychological control are most important components of sports but in Pakistan psychological control has ever been neglected not only by players but from officials also (Haddad and Tremayne, 2009). Therefore, it is important to explore cricketers' knowledge and awareness about psychological skill and their understanding of the role of psychological skills for improving performance in the field. The findings of this study would pave the way for developing psychological skills awareness among players as well as Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and National Cricket Academy (NCA) to get most advantageous results for cricket because the competitor with better control over his or her mind usually emerges as the champion.

Method

Research Design, Sampling Strategy and Sample

A qualitative approach was used and data was elicited from a sample of eleven cricketers (n = 5 Under 19 years of age International cricketers, n = 6 cricketers of Pakistan International Cricket Team). The age range for U19 cricketers was 16-19 years (M = 17.67, SD = 2.49) and for international cricketers it was 23-27 years (M = 25.88, SD = 2.03). The selection of participants was done using purposive sampling technique. The sample was collected from and National Cricket Academy (NCA).

Inclusion/ exclusion criteria. Only international cricketers were included because they had higher level experience and were capable of providing more information about the construct under study. Cricketers having minimum three years of experience in playing international cricket. Those not registered with National Cricket Academy and those who were banned to play international cricket by International Cricket Council (ICC) were excluded.

Interview guide was prepared with the help of existing literature (Wadey and Hanton, 2008) and discussion with the research supervisor. Focus group discussions and interviews were conducted to gather information regarding knowledge of Pakistani cricketers about different psychological skills and their importance along with physical fitness. Focus group discussion was conducted with five cricketers of Pakistan under 19 Cricket team whereas six cricketers of Pakistan International Cricket Team were interviewed individually. Permission was taken from the authorities of National Cricket Academy (NCA) to collect data.

Procedure

After finalizing the interview guide, the researcher contacted National Cricket Academy, Lahore and presented concerned authorities with a letter issued by Institute of Applied Psychology, explaining purpose of the study and requesting their permission for conducting focus group discussion and interviews. Permission was granted by the NCA after inquiring about the nature of questions and confidentiality of the audio taped data. The U-19 cricketers were approached through their team manager and they were briefed about the purpose and utility of the research, however, international cricketers were approached via their respective head coach. Moreover, individual consent was sought by the participants.

Before starting the focus group discussions and interviews, researcher introduced himself to the participants and explained them nature of study and assured them about the confidentiality of information provided. After taking informed consent, the participants were give necessary instructions. Focus group discussion was conducted in committee room of National Cricket Academy (NCA) and interviews were conducted during different training sessions. Focus group discussion prolonged for one hour and one average interview were completed in 5 to 10 minutes. Upon the completion of focus group discussion and interviews, the researcher thanked the participants for their participation. Focus group discussions and in-depth and one-on-one interviews were conducted with Pakistan U19 Cricket Team and Pakistan International Cricket Team respectively.

Information rich cases were selected in order to allow the investigator to extract maximum information on the issues of central importance. Then audio taped data was transcribed for analysis and subsequently themes were extracted.

Results

Thematic analysis was used to analyze the transcribed data. Focus group discussion and interviews were transcribed on separate sheets and central and subordinate themes were generated. Initially, common themes were extracted and then these common themes were inspected to find out repetitive themes. From the reduced themes, superordinate and subordinate themes were extracted. Superordinate theme was major theme under which different subordinate themes were listed (see tables 1 and 2).

Knowledge and Awareness about Psychological Skills

Table 1 Knowledge and Awareness of Psychological Skills Required in Cricket (N = 11)

###Superordinate Themes###Subordinate Themes###f

###1.###Change in nature of cricket###Psychological preparation###2

###Preparation for competition###1

###Specific mind set for a specific###1

###opponent

###2.###Importance of###Balance between personal and social###5

###psychological skills###life###3

###Shifting trends of responsibility

###3.###Sense of cohesiveness###To play for country.###1

###To be like a family.###1

###4.###Psychological control on###Use of different tactics to resolve###6

###cricket related issues###performance related issues.

###Not to be nervous in difficult###2

###situations.###2

###To work hard for survival

###5.###Improvement in cricket###To find out characteristics that###2

###through psychological###distinguishes from others.

###preparation###To work hard in batting, bowling and###3

###as well as in fielding.

###To be normal in situations when###3

###opponents are abusing or bullying.

Table 1 elaborates superordinate and subordinate theme elicited about the knowledge and awareness of required psychological skills. The first theme was elicited about the changing nature of cricket. Four participants from the data talked about psychological preparation, preparation for competition, and specific mind set for a specific opponent. Interviews revealed that participant were directly or indirectly talking about the changing nature of cricket over the period of time and psychological preparation for competition along with physical fitness.

Importance of psychological skills i.e. confidence, concentration, pressure handling and imagery were marked important by the participants. It was revealed that there must be balance between professional and social life and a cricketer should better understand about the nature of cricket. The participants asserted that their personal and social life had been affected due to ban of international cricket in Pakistan, therefore, psychological skills were essential to maintain balance between professional and social life.

Third central theme was the "sense of cohesiveness" as it entails the feeling of being together and makes oneself feel to be like family with his teammates. Psychological control on cricket related issues was also given importance by the participants and it was revealed that now-a-days, performance related issues are being handled by psychological preparation along with physical workout. It was also highlighted that nervousness during pressure situations needs to be avoided and there is a major demand to work hard for the survival in cricket due to emergence of new talent.

Moreover, different strategies were revealed by the participants for the last central theme of improvement in cricket through psychological preparation including guidance from senior players, identification and development of any characteristic that distinguishes them from other teammates and to work hard in all the aspects of the game especially when the opponents are abusing or bullying.

The Perception of the Role of Psychological Skills in Cricket

Table 2 The Perception of the Role of Psychological Skills in Cricket (N=11)

###Superordinate Themes###Subordinate Themes###f

###Freshness of mind###Fresh mind will reduce tension###2

###Guarantees career excellence###2

###Adherence to coaches for mental###Psychological motivation by coaches###2

###strength###about game

###To seek guidance from senior players.###1

###Importance of psychological###Equal importance of both physical and###9

###health###psychological health

###Balancing psychological and physical###5

###health by controlling oneself

###Dealing pressure effectively###Perform better under pressure###2

###With Positive mind set###Elimination of negative thoughts###3

###Positive thinking groom physical fitness###1

Table 2 presents superordinate and subordinate themes about the perceived importance of psychological skills in cricket. Five major themes were extracted. First theme was about psychological skills being helpful for mental freshness (feeling of comfort while practicing or playing cricket and being open to new challenges) by reducing tension and enable a player to get career excellence.

Advice from coaches and adherence to instructions by coaches were also considered to be very important. Motivational phrases were also considered important by the cricketers. According to them, coaches and management always motivate players to perform well. As the players were asked about the role of psychological health along with physical fitness, it was revealed that many players gave equal importance to both physical health and psychological skills and some mentioned to balance out psychological and physical health.

Fourth theme was about dealing with pressure effectively. It was asserted that psychological skills along with physical fitness enable players to deal with pressure situations effectively and enhance a cricketer's performance. Moreover, positive mind set through elimination of pessimistic thoughts was also emphasized.

Discussion

A qualitative study was carried out to explore the knowledge and awareness among cricketers about perceived importance of psychological skills in cricket. First of all, cricketers were asked about their knowledge about different psychological skills and it was revealed that they considered psychological skills being need of the hour in order to cope with the changing nature of cricket sport. Cohesiveness, psychological control and psychological preparation were evolved as important themes. Our findings are consistent with those of a small scale study conducted on attitudes of cricketers and coaches towards seeking sports psychology consultation which highlighted that cricketers and coaches of Pakistan are willing to seek sport psychology consultation from sports psychologist regardless of their cultural background (Solomon, Bano, and Malik, 2014). Pakistani cricketers have a positive attitude toward psychology and psychology related issues in cricket and would be open to receiving psychological support.

These findings would suggest that the provision of sport psychology within the academies of sports is likely to be worthwhile. Coaches and management are very concerned about psychological help and promoting psychological awareness programs. Coaches are more open to use psychological assistance for their players. Mallett and Hanrahan (2004) pointed out that men players may discuss their personal issues but they want to handle their problems by themselves in order to maintain their macho image. Sports enable one become socially confident and also help them cope with day to day hassles. With the passage of time the nature of game of cricket has changed and also due to security issues, Pakistan had to host cricket in UAE adding stress to the cricketers. The players, coaches and management face added pressure to play away from their home ground.

Home ground advantage is lacking in Pakistan cricket since 2009 resulting in psychological distress in Pakistani cricketers for being underprivileged of playing cricket in front of their home crowd. With these growing social changes, a strong sense of realization has occurred that psychological aspect cannot be avoid in cricket at all and it's the need of the hour to be psychologically fit during field.

Secondly, players were asked to give their views about the role of psychological skills along with physical fitness. Players revealed about different psychological aspects of cricket and emphasized on the importance of psychological health along with physical fitness including freshness of mind, adherence to coaches' instructions for mental strength, importance of psychological health, dealing pressure effectively and positive mind set. It has been found that freshness of mind reduces tensions of players and ensures their career excellence. Now-a-days, cricketers have become aware of the significance of psychological health and they seek guidance and motivation by coaches and senior players about how to be mentally strong for competition by balancing between psychological and physical health to perform better under pressure.

Moreover, as nature of cricket has changed, cricket demands positive mind set from cricketers in order to eliminate negative thoughts and to cope with demands of modern day cricket (Solomon and Kausar, 2015). There are many reasons for international cricketers to be well aware of psychological skills. The life of an international sports star seems glamorous in its essence, but with the fame, the pressure of needing to perform to stay in the team, the expectations of fans, the media's constant autopsies and being measured by your averages all make them more conscious about their status (Stow, 2013). They fear that if they consult to a psychologist, coaches and other member of the team may interpret it negatively. Media pressure may also obstruct their attitude toward seeking sport psychology consultation (Myers, Peyton, and Jenson, 2004).

Thus it is important for coaches and other officials involved in the team set-up to look after their players by discussing about their day to day problems and, if they spot any symptoms, they need to ensure provision of suitable help for players to make them psychologically strong enough to handle pressures (Afremow, 2013). Moreover, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) must get sports psychologists on their panel and should get them functional with international cricket teams as other teams utilizing their services in different leagues, counties and international tournaments held by International Cricket Council (ESPNCricinfo, 2009).

Conclusion. Sports psychology is an exciting field that aims to enhance performance of players in the field. The need of the hour is to find out some unique contribution in sports psychology researchers, therefore, current study explored the extent of knowledge and need for psychological skills by Pakistani cricketers. Findings of current research can provide a healthy awareness about the conceptualization of psychological skills important to make cricketers psychologically fit for better performance. This study can opens doors for psychologist in the field of sports in Pakistan as well as to help the coaches to understand the significance of psychological skills and their importance along with physical fitness because if coaches and management advocate the importance of psychological skills in cricket, it will emerge as part of the basic support services provided by the insinuation.

This study will direct the attention towards designing and offering cricketers psychological skills training as cricketers are well-aware about the changing nature of cricket and the role of psychological skills along with physical fitness in cricket.

Strengths and Limitations. The present study is pioneering one investigating significance of psychological skill in Pakistani cricket using qualitative methodology and it has explored the extent of knowledge and awareness of cricketers about required psychological skills and their role in cricket. The sample of the study was representative of those cricket clubs and academies registered under the platform of Pakistan Cricket Board. Despite above stated strength the present study has limitations and one needs to be mindful of these limitations while interpreting the findings. A general limitation of the current study is that the sample was only taken from Lahore and comprised of male cricketers. Moreover, the findings could be verified using quantitative research therefore, in future researchers are recommended to use multimodal approach in order to authenticate data using both quantitative and qualitative methodology.

Implications. Findings of the study have important implications for cricketers, policy makers and cricket boards and cricket academies. Considering the changing nature of the game over the period of time, psychological factors have become very significant. There should be training programs for cricketer, coaches and officials in helping to deal with psychological stressors in sports. It is important to organize awareness campaigns and seminars to highlight the role of psychological skills in cricket. Cricket related educational courses must be initiated for academy players to improve players' psychological abilities.

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Publication:Journal of Behavioural Sciences
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2017
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