It is with ebullient ecstasy that I share a few thoughts on the magnificent work done by my life-long friend, Dr Rudi Webster, in his book “Think Like A Champion”.
The book is required reading for millions of sports persons worldwide. It should adorn the shelves of boardrooms, schools, clubs, and sports associations, and would definitely quicken the minds of coaches, selectors and board members in the areas so crucial to the growth and development of their young players.
Dr Webster’s career as a sportsman, medical practitioner, West Indies cricket team manager, director of the Shell West Indies Cricket Academy and a mental skills coach easily qualified him to write his excellent first book “Winning Ways”, which I thought could only be equalled, but not surpassed. I was wrong, for his second book “Think Like A Champion” is a masterpiece. He has illuminated the dark corners of a sports person’s mind; even those who have great talents are well coached and strive to excel at the highest level.
Simply put, Dr Webster posits the view that to play like a champion, you must think like a champion. I concur; for I have never seen or indeed heard of a great sports person who was not a great thinker. It is easy to train the body but harder to train the mind. This book places emphasis on mental skills, and rightly so, for whatever the body produces, the mind has already rehearsed.
This is the age of globalisation where competitiveness and adaptation to world changing conditions are key elements of our survival and performance. In cricket, adapting to the pace and bounce of the Australian and South African pitches; the prodigious spin of the Subcontinent pitches; the swing and swerve of those in England and New Zealand; they are all part of the steep learning curve for the players. Dr Webster postulates that you must think like a champion to occupy the crease for hours and build partnerships. You must think like a champion and be disciplined enough to bowl a good line and length in order to put pressure on the batsmen to get them out.
This is also an age where players are paid commensurate with their ability; but there are now many more distractions—verbal harassment called sledging; ambiguous tweeting that gets them in trouble, and match-fixing. This book equips all sports persons with the mental skills to avoid such pitfalls. Furthermore, Dr Webster has provided us with the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest sportsmen, who have eloquently articulated their views on various aspects of their successful careers.
Among those interviewed are the two greatest all-round cricketers, Sir Garfield Sobers and Jacques Kallis, Clive Lloyd captain of the world champion West Indies team, MS Dhoni, the successful captain of Team India, Dennis Lillee and Wasim Akram, two of the world’s greatest fast bowlers, Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell, two of the world’s best batsmen, and world champion Australian golfers Greg Norman and Peter Thomson.
As a member of the Worrell/Sobers West Indies cricket team I delighted in the exploits of that world champion team from 1962 to 1968, and I was thrilled to be a selector and a manager during the reign of the Clive Lloyd/Viv Richards World champion West Indies team from 1980 to 1995. The latter team is widely regarded as one of the best in the history of sport. In those days we had a support staff of manager, assistant manager and physical trainer/therapist.
Players of my generation played at the highest level without a coach and made it through by relying on instinct, a good work ethic, self-motivation, self-reliance, strong self-discipline, commonsense, clear thinking, mental alertness, and help from other players. Currently the West Indies team can boast of a support staff of nine in their dressing rooms; however no one who is an expert in matters of the mind is included.
With the advent of three formats of international cricket, which necessitates a large support staff, it is pellucid that the team should have an expert to help players with their mental preparation, mental conditioning and mental control.
It is an absolute requirement that players be trained to be mentally tough to deal with the many pressure situations they will face on and off the field. Sporting life at the highest level is not a playground; it is a battleground. Sport tests how the player’s mind and body will react to pressure. As Dr Webster states, “Pressure can be a friend or foe and can bring the best or the worst out of the player.”
Tiger Woods, probably the best ever golfer, won many championships with an injured (broken) body, but when his mind was injured (broken) by the pressure of off-field indiscretions, his game fell apart. Tiger has since calmed and strengthened his mind and is playing like a champion again. Recently, two England cricketers who were overwhelmed by the pressure of Ashes cricket in Australia withdrew from the team while the series was still in progress. And to a lesser extent, some of the other players have also fallen victim to this pressure and have played below their normal standards.
Coping effectively with pressure is vital for success at the highest level. Rahul Dravid was well aware of this when he stated in the book: “When you understand that pressure is part and parcel of your life (and game) and that there are things you can do to control it, you will face up to it in a positive way and use it to your advantage.”
The problem in the West Indies is that emphasis is mostly on the physical, and the parts that really matter, the mind, the heart and the soul are regrettably ignored. The importance of intelligent planning and high-quality preparation are also not fully appreciated. As the book says, “Preparation and desire can at times make up for a lack of skill, but skill alone cannot compensate for a lack of willpower, preparation or mental control.”
I agree with Dr Webster that cricket is a mind game and a game for thinkers for as I stated before, I have never seen or heard about a great player who was not a great thinker. The mind is one of man’s greatest resources. “It is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.” This is precisely why we must constantly stimulate it and manage it sensibly and carefully.
Most of what I have learnt about performance in sport as a cricketer, coach, selector, board member, president of the West Indies Cricket Board and a minister of sport in the past 50 years have been so succinctly enshrined in the 363 pages of this book. But the principles expressed in the book apply as much to other professions and other forms of life’s endeavours as they do to sport.
What a golden opportunity for the regional and West Indies cricket boards to embrace and employ the contents of this book to improve their own performance and to strengthen their support team by employing a permanent mental skills coach.
I congratulate Rudi on his signal contribution to the pursuit of sporting excellence.