Gary Kirsten's coaching module

What percentage do you think mental skills as opposed to technical skills play in your cricketing success? Depending on your level, answers generally vary. Take a minute to write down your answer in your journal.

Over the past five years I have asked over 400 players from school to international level, what percentage of their practice time they spend on mental as apposed to the technical side of their game. The answer varies from 5% mental to 40% mental but with a much heavier emphasis on the lower end.

Given all this input, here is what I believe - success is 50 - 50 split between mental and technical but time spent at practise should be focussed 100% on mental and technical skills - all the time! In other words, you cannot train one without the other.
The key question is this: What mental skills are you actually training when you think you are training only your technique and not your mind?

Put differently, I think that about 70-90% of our practice time is spent training bad mental habits!

For example, in a game a batsman will be required to have a 'switch-up' and 'switch-down' focus. Switch-up is when the bowler is in his run up and the ball is about to enter play, and switch-down time is when the ball becomes dead and is on its way back into the bowlers hands.

Switch-down time is typically used to i) reflect on the last ball or the last over or last time I was in this situation, and based on this reflection from the past to ii) plan for the next ball, next over and next period of play -basically to plan for the future.

Switch-up time is classically used to do one thing and one thing only - to see the ball and allow the body to naturally/ automatically respond to it - with no i nterference from the mind at all! Or differently put, to focus on what is happening now - the present.

This is typically what happens when a batsman is 'in the zone' or fully focused in a game - but to what extent is this focus being conditioned in the nets? I suggest most players spend most of their time practicing in what I call 'bowling machine mode'. Neither batsman nor bowler really find full switch-up mode, nor focused switch-down mode. It's more a combination of 'sort-of-switch- up' and 'talk-to-others- between-balls' as a type of switch-down mode.

My suggestion is this: make a note of what you want to be thinking during switch-down and during switch-up time i n a game. And then replicate that as accurately as possible during a practice. Watch some of the international players practice - you will not see them talking unnecessarily to others at practice - in fact players like Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are as focused and 'in the zone' at practice and during throw-downs as they are facing the worlds best fast bowlers, or bowling to the best batsmen.

Practice as you play. You have all heard the saying