Plenty of practice and empty heads – Part 9: The place of the sauce in high-performance sport

8…My best knock

 

Below is a post by Craig describing an experience from his cricketing days. He has generously allowed me to dissect this recollection so that I can re-frame it in terms of how I tend to view and interpret such events. Clearly there is a constellation of omitted detail and data, and there is never one true answer, but on the surface, I’d like to present some of my perspectives born from his anecdote.

 

“A shocking preparation, highlighted by a fair sampling of amber fluid and a 4am cab home. I spent 60 overs fielding then went out to bat for 18 overs, peeling 70 off about 50 balls.

Time felt like it stood still. Everything hit the middle and I vividly remember the ball moving so slowly towards me. For some shots I remember standing post shot and being astounded that the ball had cleared the pickets with such perceived minimal effort.

I scored runs before and after but never with the clarity and time of that innings. I wish I could have stayed in that moment for more than 1% of my career!”

Craig.

 

The first thing that strikes me (besides the questionable professionalism) is the nothing to lose vibe of the circumstances. I wonder if, being fully aware of the antecedent behaviours of your pre-game preparation, you held a mindset of not thinking too far in advance and taking things as they come. This would likely create a cognitive and emotional freedom to act – so any in-game failure is understandable given the less than ideal pre-performance preparation (the nothing to lose interpretation).

 

This mindset of relieved responsibility de-escalates any sense of ego threat (the Freudian interpretation), which would soothe your nervous system – especially the alert sensitive amygdala. With the threat status now lowered, the mind is freer to attend to the more task relevant information in your environment, like a cricket ball hurtling toward you (the stress interpretation).

 

No doubt fatigue (i.e. the late night) effectively shut down your deliberate, slower, and rational mind (system 2).  Conversely, the sheer need for preservation kept you in the instinctive, system 1 mode of being.  There is always a chance of nasty injuries when facing a bowler, so it’s in your best interest to pay acute attention to a hard ball being thrown at you at a great speed.  Thanks to a long evolutionary process, complex organisms are adept at allocating resources, particularly in times of scarcity through sleep deprivation, to the most necessary functions to maintain the integrity of the organism (e.g. visual acuity).

 

The ensuing fatigue from your big night out lowered the available metabolic resources, so higher brain functions (e.g. rational thinking) are reduced because the limited resources are reserved for your core, survival oriented needs.  It’s the lack of sleep, more than the alcohol consumption that’s responsible for this – which is not an excuse to drink  – but to endorse the critical restorative and recuperative functions of sleep (the biological interpretation).

 

Although fatigue may have possibly enhanced performance in this situation, getting on the piss the night before any performance is not adaptive over the longer term.  Anecdotally, this author (and many of his similarly debauched colleagues) has, periodically, considered it a potentially valid high performance strategy.  Occasionally, after having a good game/training while enduring a hangover, this author believed that the guilt of such unprofessional standards motivated a heightened focus and concentration debt – which could only be repaid by a high work-rate and consistency of effort.  The fallacy of this stratagem was ultimately revealed through advancement in years and failure to consistently reproduce the desired results (the catholic guilt interpretation).

 

Craig, your comment about being astounded that the ball cleared the fence with perceived minimal effort is a perfect example of how the conscious mind is incapable of doing what instinct does. Common findings from brain imaging studies show that the body has acted and reacted before the conscious mind has decided to take action.  Often, the conscious mind is merely filling in the blanks of what occurred – in a feeble attempt to maintain the illusory narrative of control and volition (the neuroscience interpretation).

 

In reference to a former post by this author, this illusion underpins my disdain for the common notion of confidence in sport (and subsequent preference for the concept of freedom).  How can one respond confidently if one has already responded before one knows one has responded (the Buddhist, Daoist, and Zen interpretation)?

 

But I digress.

 

The above perspectives are only potential facets in a broader array of contributors.  In this authors’ estimation, it’s always a perfect storm of factors that permit occurrences to occur. Indeed, given your game day lead up, surely a disastrous innings is more likely, and perhaps has actually happened.  Craig, what percentage of having a game day hangover, in the past, contributed to a briefer, less successful innings?  Perhaps your sublime innings is just a statistically inevitable anomaly (the statistical interpretation).

 

A couple of other features in the environment could have contributed to your flow state and exalted performance:

 

  • Was the game played at a venue that you are favourably disposed to?  Perhaps it was somewhere you liked to play and had a history of good performances there.

 

  • Perhaps the bowlers weren’t at their best that day so that, if they’re off by 1%, and you, with the freedom of nothing to lose, are up by 1%, then you benefit.  It’s important to remember that you can still win by being bad because if your opponent is badder on the day, you win.  The commonest mistake of inexperienced athletes is to self-destruct before their opponent has a chance to.

 

 

Craig, what is clear from your description is a narrowing of your focus to the point of freedom to respond and being anchored in the present moment.  The flow guru Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (thank god this isn’t a podcast) can provide far more detail into the mechanics and nature of the flow state but it is clear that, through a remarkably wide range of contributing factors, you were able to enjoy a sublime moment in time.

 

Although I have tried to entertain in this piece, the above perspectives do represent some of the thematic lenses by which I interpret performance and I thank you for the opportunity to dissect and share.

 

 

 

About David Stiff

retrenched athlete, retired catholic, amateur philosopher and cynical optimist :)

Comments

  1. craig dodson says:

    Quite the honor to made the subject of such a fascinating piece. I certainly would have paid more attention at school if the teachers brought my sporting exploits into their lesson plans! Hats off David.

    In answer to the questions you raised.

    Similar pre match prep – whilst i loved nothing more than a post game sampling of the amber fluid, as a habit i didn’t indulge much on a friday night. I can recall two other times i did it and both were days spent bowling and i also performed pretty well.

    Performance at the venue – first game at the venue. My second game for a new club after moving to melbourne.

    Opposition – not that flash in honesty. For the only time in my memory the opposition opened with a spinner (apparently he took 7 wickets the previous week) so they opened with him. A facinating game in that our opening partnersip was 130 then we lost 10 wickets for 26 runs to loose by 3 runs!

    As someone who was prone to spending a lot of energy stressing pre game i certainly think the night on the turps freed me up. I certainly wasn’t thinking about my propensity to play across my pads at 2am when i was trying to find a spare $10 in my wallet to get into Goldfingers (in the days before i met mrs D of course).

    The perfect storm indeed.

    Well played David!

  2. Colin Ritchie says:

    Another fascinating article David, and to read it related to the actual event of Craig’s innings with your dissection and analysis of the performance made it so intriguing. I was interested how the “conscious mind is incapable of doing what instinct does” but only fills in the gaps of what has already occurred. Thanks David for your scholarly insights about this fascinating topic.

  3. Ha ha, a most enjoyable dissection, David.
    I’m sure that Craig is thrilled.

  4. Well-written David,and-reminisced Craig.
    Perhaps it’s also because you had a number of excuses ready-made for any failure(,new club,new venue,hard night etc.)that freedom to excel was made possible. As you say the opposition were “average”,so losing to them was unexpected and all your players’ performances varied from the norm- including yours.
    Freedom to excel has a lot to do with the flow state, but trance experiences like those of the Lung-Gom-Pa lamas of Tibet speak of mind development as well

  5. david stiff says:

    Craig

    Thanks again for letting me wander through your memories and experiences.
    It’s nice to know about your opposition bowler who had 7 wickets the week before – that’s clearly an example of regression back to the mean for him. So perhaps, regardless the other cited circumstances, you were really just a pawn in the statistically homeostatic nature of the universe.
    :)
    As for Goldfingers, I thought you looked familiar…

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