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Thinking Negatively by Mark Richardson

27/05/2013

As the New Zealand cricket team’s batsmen continue to plumb the depths of poor performance in their test series against England, I thought it was an apt moment to post a condensed version of an essay I wrote last year, for a strategic thinking course. The essay asked students to provide an example of strategic thinking so I wrote about Mark Richardson whose autobiography, Thinking Negatively, is the most intelligent and considered sporting autobiography I have ever read.

Mark Richardson freely acknowledges in the book that he wasn’t the most attractive stroke player and that he won’t be remembered in the same breath as great players such as Bradman, Border, Gavaskar, Gower, Tendulkar or Lara but by employing his own unique strategy he reached the top and competed hard against the best.

What is thinking negatively?

From an early age, Richardson held the aspiration of becoming an international cricketer, but desiring success was insufficient. In order to achieve success, Richardson had to acknowledge the limitations to his game and his final place in its history.

I was not one of the all-time great cricketers. I was a Kiwi battler who played a minor part in the history of the game, but a part that seemed, for a long time, to be unlikely. I didn’t win many battles against the world’s best players, but I competed hard and, in a short career at the top level, made the grade.

Richardson was strategic in applying certain methods around the process of maximising his cricketing talent in order to achieve his goal of succeeding as an international cricketer. His strategy was developed to maximise his ability to make runs, gain selection to the New Zealand test team, and to succeed as a batsman at test match level.

A change in direction

Mark Richardson began his first class career as a slow left arm spinner and by his own admission a batsman of modest ability. However, when he reached the domestic game, he came to realise that what had delivered him results in the past was not yielding him the results he expected at the higher level of first class cricket and he had to make changes.

Cricket is an oddity amongst team sports in that it is an individualised team game, whereby players have defined roles, that is to say a batsman must score runs, and a bowler must take wickets. In games, players often have to adapt their approach to different opposition and conditions, and also consider the strategies which have worked well in the past and those that have been unsuccessful in the past. Mark Richardson came to realise that the techniques and strategies which he employed with success at lower grades of cricket were unsuccessful at first class level. 

Mark Richardson had decided to focus on becoming a batsman because of his failures as a spin bowler at first class level. However, it was his success as a middle order batsman, and the failure of New Zealand’s current openers that led to an opportunity for him to become an international cricketer as an opening batsman.

I was having breakfast during the West Indies game with our manager Ross Dykes, who was also a New Zealand selector, when he asked me if I would be interested in becoming an opening batsman. Obviously New Zealand Cricket wasn’t happy with who was currently out there at provincial level and was considering manufacturing one.

How to make the most of your ability and be better than before

Success in cricket like success in any worthwhile endeavour requires hard work, planning and dedication. A focus on small personal improvements helped Mark Richardson achieve his goals. Upon reaching the level of test match cricket, Mark Richardson started to revise his goals, from making the team to performing consistently at a high standard. He was motivated to continue to improve and perform at a higher standard than he had in the past. This fed into a team mantra of BTB (Better than before).

I was now playing cricket at the highest level, I had achieved my lifelong ambition, and now I wanted to see just how good I could get. BTB was an ideology of the Black Caps and one which I bought into 100 per cent. This motivation allowed me to achieve some important goals and even surpass my own expectations.

Better than before was a tool which aimed at constant improvement for the individual players in the New Zealand cricket team. Combined with his Peak Performance Profile (an analytical tool used to measure personal performance), Richardson had the means with which to focus on improving his process performance, in order to deliver better outcomes in terms of scoring runs for the New Zealand cricket team.

Conclusion

Thinking Negatively differs greatly from typical sporting autobiographies which often offer little insight into the mental tools and planning sportspeople employ in order to deliver successful outcomes. Richardson illustrates the virtues of planning and honest self analysis which is at the heart of the mantra of thinking negatively. I highly recommend the book not just for diehard cricket fans such as myself but for anyone seeking to improve themselves in any endeavour and be more purposeful in life.



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