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Sustaining motivation when you're not winning

Insight

In November 2019, England Visually Impaired cricket team toured to the UAE to compete in six 20-over games against Pakistan. England have never won a series against Pakistan and, as we approached the competition, we couldn’t help but remember the tough tour to India the year before.

My personal performance was particularly disappointing in India 2018: I was bowled out by the first ball on two occasions and barely scored double figures with the bat. Though frustrating, as a team we took several positive learnings from the tour, particularly regarding how committed and passionate each team member is to represent their country on the cricket pitch.

Our approach to the 2019 season was to wipe the slate clean and evaluate what individual skills and attitude as a team we would need to win a home World Cup in 2021. Summer training gave individuals a lot more focus to their specific development areas e.g.  Bowlers targeting a length and line as well as Batters given clear target areas to hit.

Pakistan are ranked second in the world after India, compared with England ranked fourth. We knew we were in for a tough tour. With that in mind, the team set about deciding how we would measure our success, even if we lost each game. We knew we had to be able to track our growth despite the likelihood that the headline – England lose to Pakistan – would be the same throughout.

So, what did we do as a team that allowed us to stay positive and make progress in the face of a superior team? I think it boils down to four key factors that I’ll describe in more detail below:

Clear Performance Indicators

Coaching staff as well as senior players created a board of 16 clear performance indicators that we would aim to achieve throughout the tour. These were based upon results from our previous tour to India and the summer training camps, the thinking was that, though we may not hit all of them in one game, if we hit all of them during the tour, we would demonstrate the potential to win the 2021 Visually Impaired Cricket World Cup.

Involving the players in this goal setting created buy-in to our ambition and targets for the tour, as well as giving tangible performance outcomes (e.g. scoring six boundaries in the first six overs or reducing our number for extra balls bowled). What was crucial was that each indicator was based upon an individual player’s goal from the summer and results from previous games. By drawing team goals from individual goals, we created alignment between the processes that individual players were working on with achieving the wider team ambition.

View of long-term goal

Losing can be a particularly frustrating and lonely place within sport, but it is also a necessary part of learning and further understanding how performance can continue to improve. However, it was essential that motivation within both team and individual performance didn’t slip from game to game. We approached each match with a fresh start and learning mindset that allowed us to seize the opportunity to improve, learn and develop as a team.

Understanding why we were there in relation to our long-term goal helped players gain perspective regardless of the match results, because our ultimate plan is to win a home World Cup in 2021. Equally we didn’t want to take any opportunity for granted, so it was important that we made the most of every game we had.  

Building Momentum

A broader goal that encompassed each of our performance indicators was that we wanted to build momentum throughout the tour. This would demonstrate that we were applying our learning throughout and not trailing off our performance towards the end of tour. In the end, we had a number of great moments throughout the tour, forcing a world-class team to make tactical changes and reshape their approach of play.

My personal role as a batsman was to open at number two and take the team into the middle of the game; this was a very different responsibility from that of 2018 against India where I was batting fifth in the order. The first two games I scored 14 and 20 runs, which was an average start, but considerably better than my 2018 tour start. After reviewing match stats and video with coaches, in games three and four I scored 16 and 22, again a similar scoring pattern. With only two games left, I worked to break down my focus areas further and identified that I had been bowled and caught out while playing similar shots previously.

In game five I scored 100 not out off 60, hitting 15 boundaries. This was my best personal batting achievement playing for England and the first 100 scored by an England player against Pakistan.

In game six I was aiming for a similar performance but in a tough flood-lit game, settled on 39 not out; drawing on another personal victory: not losing my wicket to one of the best teams in the world.

For me the achievement was broader than the individual performance: it required a batting partner who could remain stable and clearly call each run, balancing both opportunity and risk. It required a captain and coaching team to believe in my potential throughout the summer and back the batting line up during games 1-4. It also required team members who understand our shared ambition and goals, each of whom gave me exposure to as much cricket batting at the No.2 position over the summer training months.

Scores per game (number of boundaries). Games 3 and 6 were Day/Night games under floodlight.

Communication and Trust

At the heart of building a high performing team is clear communication from coaches and leaders Without articulating goals and ambition/vision, it’s hard to create buy-in from the players. Players must also trust the ambition set out by these leaders, as well the ability of fellow team members to execute them. Though trust within teams can form and strengthen over time, making space to share what we want to achieve and creating an inclusive environment where everyone’s opinion is valued accelerated this process.  

Looking ahead to 2021

Out of the 16 performance indicators we bought into, 14 of them were achieved throughout the tour. This not only marks a successful tour for the squad, but acts as a catalyst to motivate us for the upcoming season and demonstrate the success achieved as a team. The challenge throughout 2020 is to achieve this in 2-3 games, building towards a more consistency in team and individual performance.

In August 2020 England will take on Australia in the Ashes series, ahead of hosting a home world cup in the summer of 2021.

 

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