Proteas: 'Beware the overthink' during CWC peril

Paddy Upton (Gallo Images)
Paddy Upton (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The embattled South African cricket team at the World Cup should try to avoid going overboard with analysis of their current plight at the tournament.

That is the advice of Paddy Upton, who helped Gary Kirsten mastermind from behind the scenes India’s elevation to the CWC 2011 title on home turf, and then also oversee the Proteas’ rise a few years ago to world’s top-ranked Test team.

Author of the just-published book The Barefoot Coach: Life-Changing Insights from Coaching the World’s Best Cricketers, Upton, a renowned specialist in performance directing and fitness, told Sport24 a hazard at a World Cup tournament was the unusually lengthy time lapse between some matches.

“In a World Cup you have quite a long time between games, when compared to a more normal (bilateral) tour … this can mean you overthink a game. A hotel room can become a lonely place to be; you can arrive at a game mentally exhausted after playing it over in your mind too many times.

“Maybe in England freeing up your mind with (non-cricketing pursuits) is a little easier … you can actually get out and about, onto the High Street, whereas in, say, India, you are very much hotel-bound because of security arrangements.

“There is (also) a very big danger when an individual or team is in a slump of focussing too acutely on the technical side, the fitting and turning of the game.

“Essentially what that does is get the player to pay attention to what is going on in and around his personal space. Whether their hands, their feet, their head, their body position. Really when a cricketer is doing his best is when a batsman, for example, is looking down the other end of the pitch at the bowler … you need to be focussing down the other side.

“You are in trouble when you focus too rigidly on what is going on in your own space. It is the same with teams: when you focus too inwardly it becomes a problem, a downward spiral.”

He also said coaches could, almost unwittingly, become counter-productive in their methods at times of difficulty.

“When slumps last a while, we coaches can actually be responsible in some ways … that’s when we feel we can jump in and make a difference. We start finding things that are wrong and helping people fix them … so all we do is direct attention to players’ techniques or teams’ processes, which gets them too self- or internally focused.”

Asked whether there was scope for a “tough love” approach, a cracking of the whip, at a time when the Proteas had not managed a win from four CWC games (one washout), Upton said: “My belief is much more to facilitate a process where the players can have an honest reflection, a look in the mirror, and they can dish themselves up a tough love, as you say, through naked honesty.

“That has a much better chance of landing at a deeper level than if delivered from the outside in. You take ego out of that process, which is also constructive, when you properly look in the mirror. So I would ensure processes were in place to make that happen.”

The Proteas will seek to bank a much-needed first World Cup victory in their fifth match against Afghanistan, a day-nighter, at Cardiff on Saturday (14:30 SA time).

*The Barefoot Coach: Life-Changing Insights from Coaching the World’s Best Cricketers is published by Paddy Upton Coaching and available at leading bookstores. Recommended retails price R295.  

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