Noted sports psychologist Dr Rudi Webster says the West Indies cricket team will begin winning again when they start believing they can win. He said the team was currently trapped in a failure spiral.
Dr Webster told Barbados TODAY that West Indies’ present problems were not related to fitness or talent but had their genesis in self-belief and self discipline.
“For more than fifteen years, the West Indies cricket team has been trapped in a failure spiral in which they fail, expect to fail and fail again. Once the world’s champion cricket team and one of the best teams in the history of sport, they have been languishing at the bottom of the Test and One Day rankings for some time, not for lack of fitness or talent but poor self-belief, weak concentration, inadequate motivation and self-discipline and a negative self-image. Once players get the basics right, performance usually revolves around these things rather than around potential,” he said.
Webster, a former West Indies team manager, said the players’ self-belief and self-image caused them to think, behave and perform like the players they imagine themselves to be. He explained their self-image was a subconscious picture they had of themselves – who they were, what they were and how good they were. And that picture, he noted, was reflected in the way they thought and talked to themselves.
Dr Webster reasoned that every player had a baseline self-image that determined how well he selected and used his talent. He said it was like a sensor or thermostat that regulated performance.
“Adjusting the level of that thermostat changes the quality of the player’s performance. If he raises the level by improving self-image and self-belief, performance usually improves. And if he lowers it, performance suffers,” he said.
Dr Webster added: “When players have a good game and performance exceeds expectations and normal standards they go into the next game expecting to do well and repeat that performance. But their subconscious sensor detects a deviation from normal and self-corrects downward. Their mind might then say, ‘That’s not like you. You know you are not that good. Correct yourself and get back to where you belong.’ Performance will then go back to its normal level. And when teams perform poorly, the players’ minds might say, ‘C’mon, that’s not like you. You are better than this.’ They might then self-correct upward, lift performance, and might even win a game, leaving everyone thinking, ‘Why don’t they play like that more often?’”
He stated that players with low self-image who were used to losing sometimes got into winning positions and then blew their chances by doing stupid things and making basic mistakes. And when they were asked why they lost they usually could not give a good reason and often confessed that they could not make any sense of what happened. Consciously, it didn’t make any sense to them, but subconsciously it made perfectly good sense because their performance maintained and reinforced the limiting self-image in their mind, Dr Webster indicated.
Just three days ago with a Test match against Pakistan seven balls from being saved in Dominica, tail-ender Shannon Gabriel inexplicably swiped at the final delivery he had to face, was bowled and the West Indies gifted a 2-1 series victory to the Pakistanis. That reckless shot ran completely contrary to the state and requirement of the game at the time.
Dr Webster suggested that West Indies’ mental dilemma had been noticed by other sports commentators.
“In 2011, after losing two close Test matches against India that they could have won, Harsha Bogle, an Indian journalist wrote: ‘West Indies played their role of the challenger quite well but you always knew it was a question of when, rather than if, they would fall away. West Indies need someone on the field to show them how to win, for at the moment they give the impression it is out of bounds. Sometimes when you fear (or expect) the inevitable, you invite it. There is much promise in this side but it is on a long downward spiral, and the new talent coming in will take the shape of the mould it is cast into. It is the mould, the air they breathe, and the acceptance of defeat that need to be demolished.’”
Dr Webster, a former first class cricketer, suggested that batting all-rounder Roston Chase could perhaps fit the mould of the player who could show the other players how to fight and be competitive and eventually how to get back to winning ways.
“Since 2011, the West Indies team has been unable to break out of that confining and losing mould because their internal sensor is aligned to a losing self-image. But as soon as they readjust their sensor by enhancing self-image and self-belief their concentration, self-discipline and self-motivation will automatically improve and they will break out of their failure spiral.
“These are significant changes that Worrell and Lloyd were able to make in their champion teams; changes that were to a large measure responsible for their team’s success and world dominance.
“The coaches, specialists and players in the West Indies team have not yet learned these lessons. The quality of a player’s performance at the highest level of sport usually revolves around his self-image as well as the depth of his self-discipline and self-motivation. There is more to performance than fitness and technique. These two things are extremely important but they should be the servants not the masters of the game. The body depends on the brain for instructions and direction for every action that it takes,” he said.
Dr Webster, who was recently honoured with the University of St George’s Distinguished Service Medal for his commitment to the advancement of cricket in the international community, said the players and selectors were often obsessed with past averages and statistics but these averages only measured what players had learned and done, but not what they could learn and become.
“Players who base their worth solely on those figures and accept them as the truth about themselves will behave like the players they believe themselves to be. As long as West Indies players hold on to negative self-beliefs, they will remain trapped in their failure spiral. To break free they must change self-image and self-beliefs, stop thinking about what they have been and start thinking about and imagining what they can become,” he said.