Sunday 30 November 2014

Grief and Success: The Blackcaps response to Phillip Hughes

The New Zealand team put out their bats in memory of Hughes
In the wake of the death of Phillip Hughes and the following outstanding performance by the Blackcaps, I was interested in the opinion of a sports psychologist as to if the two were likely to be connected.  I rang Vicki Aitken, a High Performance Sports Mentor who has a background working with a number of sports, including cricket.

I felt that it would be interesting to find out if she felt that the impressive performance might have been a part of how the New Zealand team responded to the death of Hughes, who was a personal friend of a number of members of the team.

Here's her response to my question:

So how does this play mentally?  I’m speculating from a distance but I would suggest a number of factors may have been involved here:

I believe there are 6 aspects that go into top performance one of which is the need to have a holistic life with good life balance going on. A death can help you put your own life into perspective and the game back into its rightful place as being exactly that a game (albeit a great game!). Athletes notoriously perform better when there is life balance and or perspective going on. The comments from Ross Taylor about playing naturally and like a kid give this argument some credibility.
Lack of emotional response can be a two edge sword. The positive side is that when they make a mistake or error by not responding emotionally rather than dwelling on the past it allows them to stay in the moment more easily which is where you need to be to perform at your very best.
Phil Hughes death (and commemoration of his life) can also be a motivational factor. Athletes have been known to use and attribute their successes at highly emotional times like this to their mate or loved one. Where thoughts are filled between balls of the man in question. So that by the time they switch on again to face the next ball they are 110% focused and in the moment inspired to do so by the legend that has now gone. Two golf examples spring to mind where this has happened: Darren Clarke at the Ryder Cup in 2006 shortly after his wife died of cancer, he played remarkably well helping the Europeans to victory. And back in the 1995 Ben Crenshaw used the death of his legend coach Harvey Penick the week before to go on and win the Masters.

Vicki Aitken – High Performance Sports Mentor – BA, PGDipPE, MPhEd; BASES Accredited, SESNZ Member.

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