AB de Villiers – The burden of captaincy


Has the new captain struggled in transition?


South African cricketer, AB de Villiers, was recently appointed as the side’s Test match captain mid-way through the 2015/16 Test Series vs England, following Hashim Amla’s resignation.

De Villiers has been labelled as one of South Africa’s greatest batsman, with numerous records to his name, making his appointment unsurprising amongst cricketing experts. However, since his promotion, he has failed to score any runs on three occasions, across a total of 4 innings; which is somewhat staggering for a player of his calibre.

Having the added pressure to perform at a more senior level, with the leadership role now attached to his name, may have contributed to the players’ recent string of poor performances. Could there be a lack of psychological flexibility which has increased the pressure on De Villiers and therefore hindering his individual performances?

Psychological flexibility, based on Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), refers to having “the ability to be in the present moment with full awareness and openness to experience and to take action guided by values.”1What’s interesting is that De Villiers has only failed to score on 4 occasions during an 11 year tenure for South Africa. However, since receiving the captaincy, he has failed to score on 3 occasions in the space of 2 matches. It’s difficult to contest the fact that the issue of captaincy has had a negative effect on the player’s own performances. Ultimately, we feel that a lack of psychological flexibility might be underpinning the player’s poor run of form.

Tips to enhance Psychological Flexibility

1. Recognising and learning

Knowing your direction for growth and development and being able to consistently act in ways which can get you there, are crucial elements when looking to advance performance.1

De Villiers needs to have the ability to recognise and move on from unhelpful patterns that have hindered his individual performances of late. To do this, the player will need to create sustainable action, and adopt a learning mindset, where he can view mistakes as a growth opportunity, therefore providing the conditions required for long term development.


2. Being Present

Lane4’s research1 identified that individuals who are task orientated, experience situations fully and act in the moment, are able to create the conditions for themselves to have the potential to perform at a high level. 

In the case of De Villiers, he needs to concentrate on being a batsman when out in the middle, and avoid thinking too much like a captain. By opening up in this manner and being task focussed, he’ll be able to let go of the unhelpful thoughts which may cross his mind when facing a bowler, for example.


3. Personal Resilience

When transitioning into a new role, it’s important to establish that mistakes can occur and performances can remain stagnant, even after recognising the need to alter behaviours. Mistakes are an important source of learning, so successful leaders tend to be resilient enough to handle failure. They remain composed, admit their mistakes, accept responsibility and constantly look to improve.1

For De Villiers, he needs to embrace personal resilience as a tool for development. It may be a while before he re-discovers his prolific test match form. However, by persevering with failure in the short term, he’ll be able to develop his personal resilience going forward, making it easier for him to handle similar situations in the future.


In the case of AB De Villiers, it’s clear that a leadership transition has had an adverse effect on his recent performances. Experts have marvelled at his leadership abilities, but few have considered how the transition has affected his individual performances. To overcome this drop in performance, it might be worthwhile for the cricketer to consider how to improve psychological flexibility. By viewing failure as a learning opportunity, being present in the moment and embracing personal resilience during tough times, De Villiers will set himself up for superior performances in the future, and in doing so, will reinstate himself as one of the greatest cricketers.

For business leaders, it would be valuable to consider these tips when making a transition into an advanced role. This will facilitate psychological flexibility, allowing a smoother transition in the process, whilst ensuring performance can remain at a high standard.

Has your own performance been affected when making a transition? Have you integrated any of these tips when making a leadership transition?



1. Morrison, B., Brown, G., Maitland, A. and Gardner H., 2015. Leadership Transitions: Personal Transition. Lane4 Management Group Ltd

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